It was the fall of 1979 that we moved to Mesick, Michigan. Most people who live in Michigan know where Mesick is – it’s on the way to somewhere else.
A little town in the northern half of Michigan’s lower peninsula, Mesick is known for two things: morel mushrooms and deer hunting. Make that three things – it’s also on the way to somewhere else!
The annual Mushroom Festival is the highlight of Spring, complete with the crowning of the Mushroom Queen and the Mushroom Parade.
Deer hunting is so much a part of this area’s culture that if November 15 – the opening day of the firearm deer season - falls on a week day, there is no school. Most folks around there can’t figure out why November 15 wasn’t made a State holiday long ago.
We had moved there because I had accepted a call to be the pastor of a small country church – the first church I had the privilege to serve at. We lived in the parsonage, an old, two-story house that was actually two houses put together in an ‘L’ shape. We heated with wood like most everybody else and were quite comfortable there with our four children.
I had bought my wife, Cynthia, a deer rifle for Christmas a couple of years before that. It was a Ruger Model 77 in 7x57 caliber (the old 7mm Mauser), with a 4-power Weaver scope on it. She had already proved to be a good shot with it, and had put deer in the freezer.
This story took place a year or two after our move.
On opening day we were going to be hunting on a piece of property about 45 minutes away. It was perfectly situated between crop fields and a one square-mile swamp. I described this place to a greater extent in my previous story titled, ‘Foggy Morning Buck Down’.
When hunting with Cynthia, I always tried to put her in the best spot that was available to us on the property. She usually only hunted the first day or two, so I wanted her to be where the opportunities would be the greatest.
This particular year, it was going to be on a knob that overlooked one of the many trails that the deer used to cross into this 160 acres and through it on their way to the swamp, where they bedded for the day.
When we left our house before daylight, a light snow was falling. “Perfect”, I thought, “There will be enough snow cover to really see the deer well”.
If you have never hunted when there is snow on the ground, you just have to imagine what a difference it makes when a dark-colored deer moves against a white background. Even when there is cover you can see the outline of a deer very well; the difference between hunting on snow and bare ground is like day and night.
Little did I know that as we drove to the hunting property, we would be moving into an area that had been getting hammered with snow all night.
Being situated with Lake Michigan to the West and Lake Huron to the East, our state regularly experiences what is known as “lake effect” snowfall. When conditions are right, huge masses of moist air lift up off the lakes, are carried aloft anywhere from one to one hundred miles inland, then come down as snow to blanket the ground with the white, fluffy stuff.
That morning we arrived at the hunting location to find snow that was well above our knees. I barely made it down the road to where I wanted to park!
We got out of the car, loaded our rifles and headed up to the knob where I planned to put Cynthia.
Finding a bush to use as a background, I kicked away the snow and placed her styrofoam-filled cushion on the ground in front of it. When she sat down, she was all but invisible except for her shoulders and head sticking up above the deep snow; talk about a natural blind!
I took up a position on the opposite side of the knob facing an area of cover between our knob and the next high ground.
By looking over my left shoulder I could see Cynthia, but couldn’t see the area she was watching. I would normally have moved further away, but with the depth of the snow I figured it was far enough to walk – and would be plenty far if I had to drag a deer through that stuff.
Daylight came slowly as it usually does when you’re just sitting there counting the minutes to legal shooting time.
I had just looked at my watch and verified that it was now legal to shoot when I noticed a movement in Cynthia’s direction. She had raised her rifle and was looking at something through the scope.
I was startled, but not really surprised when I saw flames belch from the muzzle of her rifle in the early light. The report of the shot was amazingly weak, having been absorbed by all that new snow.
I saw her swinging the rifle to her left, and thinking that there might be more than one deer, I stood up to see if I could get a shot.
I watched a doe bounding through the deep snow and raised my rifle, not knowing if that was the one she shot at, or if it was another one. We both had doe permits, so if we could get two, why not?
My crosshairs had just found the deer when it suddenly took an unusual leap to the side and tipped over. Chalk up another one for Cynthia!
After trudging the nearly 100 yards to the deer, field dressing it and dragging it out to the car, I was rather glad that we only had one deer. Even though I was much younger then, I still had my limits.
On the way back home, we drove right out of the deep snow and found the ground almost bare where we lived. Welcome to hunting in Michigan in the Fall!