“How big was your buck?”, is a familiar question that is asked among deer hunters. Typical answers usually range from, “A spike” to, “An eight-pointer”, or anything in between. Sometimes the number goes even higher to nine, ten or more. In my neck of the woods (Michigan), there are some big deer, to be sure. But more often than not, the number of points on a whitetail that is killed here will be eight or less. I have a friend who has shot 102 bucks in his lifetime and still hasn’t collected one that is ten points or more – and that includes hunting in four different states! I recently told him that I sometimes dream about taking a ten-pointer before he does!
This story is about a deer that I tagged during the 2007 season – my 1.5-point buck.
As our practice has been for the past several years, my wife and I had traveled to my friend’s cottage on a lake in the northern part of Michigan’s lower peninsula. We hunt public land up there, so we never really know what kind of hunting pressure we’ll find until the morning of opening day.
We always have a plan on where we will be sitting when it gets light enough to see, but we never know if that spot will be occupied by another hunter when we get there. I have walked in to a specific tree and found someone exactly where I was hoping to be. That’s always interesting, because it means formulating a “Plan B” in the darkness. Even if we find our “spot” unoccupied, there is always the possibility that when daylight arrives, you will begin seeing blaze orange through the trees – another hunter (or hunters) sitting anywhere from 50 to 100 yards away that you didn’t see while it was dark. This is sometimes referred to as "sitting in a pumpkin patch"!
Welcome to the world of public land hunting in Michigan!
On this particular opening day, no one was encountered as we set up in our chosen positions; so far, so good. My stand was located on a flat area that bordered a cedar swamp; we call this particular area, “Oak Flat”.
The swamp was long and narrow, running for well over a mile through mixed hard woods, and lower in elevation from the surrounding terrain. It was a favorite travel route for deer, especially once the presence of hunters became a factor in their lives. From my chair in front of a deadfall, I could look down into the swamp as well as through the woods to my left, right and behind me.
Looking into the swamp of mixed cedar and pine.
The morning began to pass by with the predictable sound of gunshots; there were several during the first hour, and then less as the day progressed. By 9 am, I hadn’t seen a deer, nor had I heard a shot from the direction that my wife was sitting in a popup blind probably 200 yards away.
It was nearing 9:30 when I suddenly heard the sound of a deer running; very easy to detect, given the fact that the ground was covered with dry, crunchy oak leaves under the light cover of snow. I spotted it on other side of the swamp, running as though it had been spooked by another hunter. I could only see it through the trees, and it offered no possibility of a shot, but passed from my view in the general direction of Cynthia’s stand. My hope was that it would slow down before it reached her location and she would be able to get a good shot at it.
After a few minutes passed, I heard a slight sound behind me. I slowly stood up and turned to peer over the deadfall that was at my back. There was a doe, gingerly stepping in the leaves on my side of the swamp. She had apparently crossed the swamp just as I lost sight of her, and was now making her way carefully up to the flat. She would have passed behind me without my ever knowing if it hadn’t been for the slight noise of her feet on those leaves. I raised my rifle and waited for her to step between two trees. At the sound of the shot, she dropped in her tracks.
That was only one of three deer that our party tagged that first day; Ed had a doe, and a college student with us had shot a spike. We dined on venison tenderloin that evening – Yum!
On the morning of the second day, I was back in my spot by the deadfall. Once again, the first two hours of daylight had produced no deer sightings. The clock was moving past 9 am when I spotted movement across the narrow swamp.
I shifted the Ruger bolt action rifle in my hands and began looking more intently. A doe was slowly working her way along, nibbling on something here and there, very casually and seemingly unbothered by anything. My doe tag was already filled, so I scanned her head several times through my scope – turned up to its highest power – but could see no indication of antlers.
It was probably after about 15 minutes that she had worked her way to a position directly in front of me, about 60 yards away and slightly downhill, she being in the bottom of the swamp. It was then that I noticed another deer, following along the doe’s same path, back where I had first seen her.
“Ha!”, I thought. “It’s a buck following her!” But no amount of peering through the scope could produce any antlers on this one’s head either. Eventually, the second deer caught up with the first one, and even though I would occasionally put the scope on them, there was still no evidence of anything that would lead me to believe there was a legal buck there, having at least one antler 3inches long.
Then I noticed that the second deer seemed to be paying a lot of attention to the back end of the first one; now that was highly suspicious! I again checked through the scope, and what do you know, but I saw the unmistakable curve of antler extending above the head of the second deer! That was all I needed. Without lowering the rifle, I flicked off the safety, settled the crosshairs behind his shoulder and touched off the shot. The 150-grain bullet from the .308 did its job. Just like the doe the day before, he dropped straight down as the doe bounded away.
Upon approaching the deer, my heart jumped into my throat as I saw no antlers on its head. Had I shot another doe – without a valid tag? I couldn’t have! Standing over the deer, I saw nothing that resembled a legal buck.
I reached down and turned the deer’s head and that’s when I saw the single, slightly bladed antler on one side only. I guess the light and angle had to be just right before I could see it in the dimmer light of the swamp. The other side had some antler growth, but it was very stunted and turned down almost against the skull. I had shot a 1.5-point buck!
Unusual antler growth of my 1.5-point buck
According to biologists, antler deformities are very common in deer. Whitetail deer tissue growth in antlers is among the fastest growing tissues in the entire animal kingdom. Deer antler tissue has been documented to grow from ¼ inch to ¾ inches in a day, or 24 hour period. During deer antler development, the deer’s antlers are very delicate and extremely sensitive. This is the time when most antler damage or breakage occurs, not counting that which occurs during the fighting stages of the rut.
Apparently, my buck had done something very early in the growth of his antlers to result in this unusual formation that I was now looking down at. But, hey – how many people do you know who can say that they’ve shot a 1.5-point buck?