What a place to try to hunt!
It was so thick that visibility was limited in most places to just a few yards.
The jack pines that were between 5 to 20 feet tall had been planted in furrows, making the walking very difficult. If you didn’t keep one eye on the ground, your foot would either suddenly drop into a furrow or strike the side of one. It was definitely not the best scenario for sneaking up on a deer.
To make matters worse, the scrub oak that had grown up among the jack pines made another contrasting color of solid wall that was impossible to see through in many places.
This was Kirtland’s Warbler habitat.
It was the kind of place that was only good for the nesting area of these little birds . . . and security cover for deer!
Jack Pines and Scrub Oak make for very thick cover.
Even in the 'open' areas, distances are short.
The Kirtland’s Warbler is listed as an endangered species. Almost extinct 50 years ago, they have made a comeback due to the creation and management of near-perfect nesting habitat.
Almost the entire population of these birds nest only in a few counties in the Northeast portion of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.
They arrive from their winter grounds in the Bahamas in early May, breed and hatch their young by mid-June, then leave again for their winter quarters during August and September.
As seen on this sign, there is only limited admittance to this specialized area.
It had already been a pretty good day for Ed.
Ed is one of my hunting buddies with whom I have hunted and fished since I became an Associate Pastor of the church he attends 7 years ago.
That morning, the second day of Michigan’s firearm season, Ed had collected a large doe by making what he called, “a Hollywood shot”.
We had both been stand hunting on a particular ridge of mixed pine and hard woods about 30 miles from the Warbler spot. Neither of us knew that the other was there, since I had arrived later than he, and though I saw his truck, I had no idea where he was hunting.
I had seen three does moving quickly through the woods, having come over a saddle and heading for an area of fairly thick pines.
They didn’t have their tails up, but were obviously in a hurry to get to the thicket.
I tried to find a good opening through which to shoot, but it just didn’t happen. Rather than taking a very marginal shot, I elected to pass on these deer.
They hadn’t been out of my sight for more than 30 seconds when I heard a shot from the direction they had gone. That sound was followed by the unmistakable racket of a deer crashing through the woods and falling in a heap.
“Well”, I thought, “somebody got a clear shot at them”.
Ed later told me the story.
He had been sitting between three tree trunks, leaning against one of them when he heard the deer coming from over his right shoulder.
They moved behind him through the pines and came out where he could see them, but now were back over his left shoulder.
The only way he had a clear shot was to lean backward, put his rifle almost directly over his shoulder and fire from this very unusual, twisted position.
But the 180 grain slug from his .300 Winchester Magnum (I call it, ‘overkill’ – he calls it ‘never-fail’) connected with the deer’s boiler room, sending it into a short, fast death run.
When I saw him a half-hour later, he was dragging the deer down the ridge to the cut that led to our vehicles. I packed up my gear and headed that way myself.
He gave me the deer to take home and said that he thought he might go to the Warbler habitat, since we had both briefly scouted it, but hadn’t yet hunted it.
Fast forward 3 ½ hours: I was in my garage, just finishing the job of hanging and skinning the doe. I was in the process of cutting out the windpipe, the last of what I was going to do before closing the door to let it hang for a few days before butchering, weather permitting.
My hands were good and bloody when my cell phone began furiously ringing in my pocket.
Grabbing a rag and quickly drying my hands off (well, mostly), I answered the phone. It was Ed.
“How come you’re never around when I need help dragging a deer?” he said.
“You got another one?” I asked.
“An 8-pointer that will probably measure 120 inches!” was his reply.
Here’s the story of his ‘snapshot buck’:
He had entered the thick jack pine plantation and began moving through it, looking for a possible large opening from which to ambush moving deer some other time. It was mid-day now, and he didn’t expect deer to be moving much, but the thought was that it might be a good spot some morning early before they bedded down.
After traveling what he guessed was about 3/8 mile he came to an old forest trail that had been closed off at the road, but was still quite open compared to the surrounding bush.
He was mincing along this trail, looking for tracks – either human or deer – when he heard the sound of a rapidly departing deer not far from him on his right side.
Looking in the direction of the sound he could see a large set of antlers moving through the brush in the general direction of the trail he was on.
He moved quickly ahead a few steps and stood ready if the buck came across the trail – which it did - in one great leap.
Ed snapped the rifle to his shoulder and fired at the deer in mid-air, aiming completely instinctively (did I tell you that Ed has shot many, many deer with that rifle?).
The bullet hit the big buck perfectly behind the shoulder and that was the last leap that it made. It came down on the far edge of the trail and never went further.
The only bad part about this adventure was the long drag out through that thick habitat … over all those furrows … on a fairly warm afternoon.
By the time he got to my house for the picture it was dark and he was tired; but he was a happy camper anyway!
Nice shot, Ed!