We only had the morning to hunt.
The exact reason for that escapes me now, but we had to be back at the house by noon – and this was opening day of deer season!
Our usual hunting location was a 45-minute drive away, which meant that we would have to leave there by 11:00, which meant that we’d have to come out of the woods even earlier than that, which means . . . well, you get the idea.
It basically meant that if we went to our usual place, we wouldn’t be able to hunt very long.
But what if we didn’t go there?
What if we hunted somewhere close?
Like on the property of our good friend, Frank, for example.
Frank owned 80 acres on the next road over from where we lived.
I had bow hunted there before, and had seen evidence of the fact that while it wasn’t a great place to hold deer, they often crossed his property on their way to somewhere else.
Especially the area that bordered Cole Creek, a small stream that meandered through his 80 and eventually flowed into the Manistee River.
And the small cedar swamp that was in the lowest part of the property was a good staging area for deer that were traveling either direction.
After talking to Frank about it, a plan was decided upon.
He would pick up our kids and take them to school along with his kids.
In a previous story I had told of how the schools were closed on opening day in this rural area of northern lower Michigan – but that was only the public schools.
Our kids attended a Christian school 25 miles away, so we took turns driving with Frank.
It was his turn anyway, so it worked out well that we could just hunt “around the corner”, as it were, on his property on that cold November morning.
IT WAS COLD!
It was one of those days when the air was snappy and everything was covered with frost.
When we pulled into Frank’s yard in the darkness, we could see frost glittering under the illumination of his mercury vapor yard light.
As soon as we stepped outside the hairs in our noses froze and we felt that stinging sensation on every bit of exposed flesh.
The frost on the ground didn’t crunch, but it squeaked under our feet as we walked to our chosen stands – that’s cold!
I took Cynthia to the fencerow that ran along the top of the hill that overlooked Cole Creek.
She would be facing west – right into the breeze that was soon to come up – looking downhill to the creek, about 80 yards away.
We had set a folding chair against a pine tree the evening before so it would be ready to use this morning.
After leaving her there, I proceeded south along the fencerow to where the land dropped in elevation as it went down into the cedar swamp.
I tried to be quiet as I picked my way through the frozen swamp to the folding chair that I had left there, and sat down facing east.
I was now about 50 yards into the swamp and 150 yards from Cynthia’s position.
Neither of us could see the other, but each knew where the other was sitting.
AN INQUISITIVE BUTTON BUCK
I had been sitting for perhaps an hour when I heard the sound of cracking ice.
Turning my head, I could tell that it was coming from behind me – not the direction that I had expected to see deer.
Slowly swiveling on the hard, wooden seat of my chair, I could see a slight movement through the cedar trees and deadfalls that littered the floor of the swamp.
I slid off the chair as quietly as possible and crouched in front of it, peering through the opening between the seat and back of the folding chair.
Now, at least, I could watch and see what was back there without being in a twisted in a neck-stretching position.
As I watched, the movements of an animal became more distinct until I could make out the outline of a deer.
It was slowly approaching my location, taking a step or two - stopping, looking, listening – before taking another step in my direction.
Finally I was able to see that it was a small deer, a button buck that was by itself.
It kept coming closer until it was no more than 10 yards away.
It stood there, looking at me, moving its head up and down, sniffing the air for a clue as to my identification.
It wouldn’t go away.
I didn’t want to frighten it – and any other deer that might be around – so I tried whispering loudly, “Go away!”
That got its attention, but it seemed to make it even more curious.
It came even closer.
I was getting very tired of this game, and also rather cramped from crouching down low in front of the chair, so I leaned to the side so that the little buck could see that I was human.
It was as if the light suddenly went on in its little buck brain.
For some reason, that seemed to satisfy its curiosity, and it turned and began to gingerly walk back into the heart of the swamp – tail up, but not really frightened.
It eventually disappeared from my sight through the trees.
With a sigh of relief, I got up, stretched, and sat back down on my chair, wondering how Cynthia was doing.
PRAYING FOR A DEER
As it turned out, she was really feeling the cold.
The breeze had come up, and was blowing directly into her face, lowering the wind chill to somewhere around zero.
She often reminds me that her favorite temperature is “warm”, and it was far from that on this very chilly morning!
She began to wonder how much longer she could stand it before she would be forced to retreat to the relative warmth of the car, or better yet, to visit with Frank’s wife in the house.
She began praying, “Lord, you know I’m freezing. Please send me a deer – or send one to Jerry – so that I’ll have an excuse to get up and move.”
Now, I’m not saying that what happened next was part of God’s sovereign plan for the universe, but it sure did seem like an answer to her prayer at the time.
SHOTS – AND ACTION!
Shots rang out on the high ground on the opposite side of the creek bottom that Cynthia was watching.
In fact, it sounded like a small war was going on over there!
Several shots were followed by several more, and then some more – then silence.
She was alert now, and for the moment the fact that she was cold was forgotten.
Would she see a deer moving in her direction?
Would it be a buck? She didn’t have a doe permit this year, so it had to have at least one antler at least 3 inches long.
A few minutes passed, and she began to think that nothing would transpire from the flurry of shots across the way.
Maybe somebody got a deer, or perhaps they weren’t even shooting at deer, but were target practicing. There certainly were a lot of shots!
Just then she saw a deer cross the creek below her and begin making its way to her left, in the direction of the cedar swamp.
It was a buck!
It was a legal buck!
She had never shot a buck before, and here was one only about 80 yards away!
She raised her Ruger M77 and found the deer in the scope.
It turned and began coming up the hill at an angle, closing the distance, probably heading for the cover of the pine trees on top.
I had told her that if she ever had a shot at a deer that was moving to put the crosshairs on the front edge of its chest when she shot. That way it would provide a little bit of lead, but not so much that she would shoot in front of the animal if the lead wasn’t perfect.
That’s what she did.
The rifle barked, sending a 150 grain bullet through the buck’s brisket, clipping the windpipe at the point of connection to the lungs.
The buck hit the ground and then started to get up, but a second shot anchored him.
THE REST OF THE STORY
I knew that it was Cynthia who had shot.
From the spacing of the two shots I guessed what had happened; it wasn’t two shots that missed, but a hit followed by a second finishing shot.
I got up from my chair and made my way in her direction.
Emerging from the swamp I could see her standing on the side of the hill with a deer at her feet.
After a hug and congratulations, I looked more closely at the buck.
There was a bullet hole in one of the hind legs, just above the knee.
Apparently, this is what all the shooting was about on the other side.
Other hunters must have been shooting at it – probably while it was running – and had only managed a very marginal hit.
It had come down the hill on the far side of the creek and that’s when Cynthia had picked it up crossing over to her side.
She was very glad to have her first buck down, but especially glad to be able to move around and get warmed up a bit.
To tell the truth, I was glad for the same reasons.
It sure was cold down in that swamp!