By David Wagman
-- Muzzleloader season is always such a fine challenge. One shot at best! Not so this time, though. I was invited once again to hunt with a friend on a 200-plus-acre dairy farm in the thumb of Michigan. We went out early on a clear December morning. My buddy Dean located to one side of the swamp and his son Travis to the other. I went north to the end of the large woods that bordered the swamp, self-climber and 50 cal. in tow.
I positioned myself about 30 yards from the corner of the woods facing south so that I could see 150 yards of the woods and out to surrounding sudex fields to the west. Having sighted my rifle in at 50 and 80 yards during the week, I was confident and ready. Perfect morning and great view!
Little did we know what was to become the most unforgettable hunt in some 30-odd years.
Just about 8 a.m., I saw antlers coming slowly through the woods ahead of me. Gulp! My heart started its drum beat. There was something different about this deer. The deer was limping. This was a mature buck with something wrong with its left front leg. At 40 yards, it stopped and gave me a broadside shot. Crosshairs on its shoulder, I knew this would be an easy shot.
When the smoke cleared, the buck was still standing in the same place, and I could see a new notch in a branch 2 feet above his head. But the buck just stood there, and so did time. Until, over my two-way came my buddy's voice in a whisper, "Did you get em?"
I was turning into a wreck. I answered quietly, "No. Hang on. He's still right in front of me." This was wild, but only mild to what happened next.
This deer wandered around like nothing ever happened! The buck appeared to be okay, but I was falling apart. I watched the deer for 30 minutes without a clear shot, until it laid down about 100 yards from me. When the buck put its head down to take a nap, the hunt took on a whole new direction. I was determined to get a second shot with a muzzleloader. After nervously reloading, I called my friend. By now I knew that he would be getting a little crazy, too.
I told him what happened, and he asked me if I wanted to double-team him. My answer? "You bet!" There was no way that I could get another shot where the deer was lying, and I couldn't be sure that it would come my way once it got up.
Since we had hunted this land together many times before, I had only to describe where to approach from in order to get this deer up and moving. Ten minutes later, I watched my partner walk up the path between the woods and the field. He was quiet and careful, but when he had gone past the sleeping deer and me, I had to tell him to go back 100 yards, cut in 20 and then move back up toward me. When he did that, the action began again.
I couldn't have planned this better. I watched as the big boy got to its feet and half-trotted right to me. The buck stopped 15 yards from me. I don't know how adrenaline is measured, but I felt like I had just pumped out a gallon. Now this would be easy. Once again, crosshairs on the shoulder . . . KABOOM!!!
But when the smoke cleared, the buck was standing there! By this time, I was shaking all over. My buddy whispered, "Well?" It was all I could do to tell him to hold on.
At this point, "super deer" walked another 30 yards, laid down and curled up like my dog on a pillow, next to an oak tree, and began licking its leg. What else could I do -- besides maybe fall out of the tree? I reloaded. Between the smoke, sweat, and shaking, I barely was able to focus on the task at hand.
When I put the primer in, the buck got up and walked into a thicket at the corner of the woods and the sudex field. So I called my pal, who still had his wits about him, and said, "Dean, go back out to the edge and follow the trail up to the corner. You might get a shot at him. At least you will know if he crossed the field or not."
So, I watched as Dean made his way to the corner. Five long minutes later, Dean walked back into the woods. He shook his head -- nothing. I watched Dean as he followed what I found out later was a blood trail back to the corner. Now was my chance to get down.
Easier said than done, with my blood overflowing with adrenaline, and visions of antlers racing through my mind. I had made my way about 10 yards toward the field when, KABOOM! This time it was Dean.
I got to the edge just in time to see the wild-eyed look on Dean's face. "He jumped up right in front of me!" Dean yelled. "I know I hit him. He kicked his hind legs up and ran back toward you and went down." Dean said that he would walk into the field until he was even with me because the deer was between us.
He then told me to walk very slowly toward him. If the deer jumped up, Dean would flatten out, and I would finish him off. That's how it was supposed to work. Ha! This was my first experience with sudex. You could lose an elephant in this crop made for cow feed.
Waist to chest high in sudex, I picked my way through this tangle, expecting any minute that ole "ha ha, you can't hit me" would pop up. I was totally FREAKED-OUT! This couldn't be happening. Three shots and no deer.
Making it to Dean, there were now two of us blown away. We stood quietly for a minute, trying to look down into the tangled sudex. This was crazy. Just then, the super deer with the big antlers (now tangled in and hanging with sudex) decided it would have a little fun with us. The buck jumped up and charged right at this old adrenaline-worn, nerve-wrecked hunter.
I had to jump toward Dean and swivel. When I did, I lowered my gun to my hip and almost had the barrel poking in its side when I let go. KABOOM! Yes . . . my third shot at the same deer.
This time, the buck went down 20 yards from us.
Wrong again! The buck got up and ran another 40 yards, and went down again. WHEW! That ought to do it. Nope, not yet. This time the buck got up and ran about 60 yards before it fell.
Here stood two, used to be, pretty successful hunters with empty guns. I mean EMPTY! No reloads. When Dean came running the first time, he left his reloads in his ground blind. We gave each other that stupid look and almost had a laugh. Thankfully Dean was able to call his son, and have him run to his blind, gather the extras and hightail it to our position. He's young, so we told him to run!
We all shoot the same loads in the same guns, so I also got to reload. Then we spread out. Travis on the wood's side, me in the middle, and Dean to the far side. There was pretty good blood, so we figured the buck would stay down. Ten minutes later, Travis and I watched Dean raise his rifle for the last time.
Dean's last shot had hit this deer in the neck. The only other shot that connected was when I fired the second time. That one hit the buck in the front leg. The buck had been hit in the front shoulder some time ago.
I think this is what kept the buck from being able to smell or see us. It was pretty exciting and a hunt for more memories than anything else. Not only did we get a nice buck, we were able to put it out of its misery. I had drawn first blood, but Dean sealed the deal. Even though the buck hangs on Dean's wall the memory of the hunt will hang in my mind forever.