Confessions of a Nest Hunter
I hadn’t even heard the term until I was reading a book about Mule Deer hunting.
The author was describing the different methods that hunters use to harvest Mule Deer, and he termed the first one, “Nest Hunting”.
It is what we have always called, “Stand Hunting”, or just, “Standing”, or as I have heard it called in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and elsewhere, “Posting”.
This method of hunting simply involves finding a good vantage point from which to watch for deer and settling in for a while – perhaps all day.
In this method the hunter might actually stand, perhaps leaning against a tree.
He could also stand between two or more tree trunks to break up his outline.
He might even stand behind the screen of one or more pine or cedar trees in order to be more concealed while watching a likely travel route or feeding area.
Often the hunter will sit rather than stand; it might be on the ground, on a rock, a stump, deadfall or tree stand.
Or - as I prefer to do as my muscles and bones become more adverse to hard and cold surfaces – a hunter might sit on a folding stool or chair.
The most luxurious method of stand hunting is to employ the use of a homemade shooting house or manufactured blind; now you have both comfort and concealment, including the opportunity to use a small heater in very cold weather.
This is what our author referred to as “nest hunting”; sitting in your “nest”, waiting for deer to move into your field of view, either by natural movements or because they were disturbed by another hunter.
I was in my nest on opening day of our 2010 firearm deer season.
I was hunting in an area of Michigan’s Northern Lower Peninsula.
My hunting partners and I simply call it Bull Gap, since it is bordered on one side by Bull Gap Road.
It’s a very hilly part of the state, at least by our standards.
Folks in the West would probably scoff at these hills, since none of them are much more than a 50 to 100 foot vertical climb.
But unlike out West where there might be several hundred yards, or even ¼ mile or more between hills, there is very little relatively flat, or low terrain between these hills or between the many ridges that run through the area.
This means that no sooner are you up on top of one hill or ridge than you are looking at going back down the other side – only to have another climb facing you.
If you don’t have young legs and a lot of energy – don’t go there!
Covering just over 2 square miles, the elevation lines on this map testify to the hilly terrain.
There was a day when I probably would have thought the idea of running up and down these topographical structures was great fun, but not any more.
Now I do well to make my way up a cut between two of these elevated features and hunt the tops.
That’s what I was doing sitting in my nest on top of a ridge that had routinely produced whitetail activity in the past.
My hope was that today would be no exception.
I had chosen a clump of oak trees that was near the highest point of this particular ridge to sit beside.
My thought was that they would provide something to help break up my outline so I wouldn’t stand out like a bump on a log – or on a chair in this case.
Being near the highest point, I was also hopeful that I would be able to see at least part way down both sides of the ridge to the flats beside it that were at a slightly lower elevation and often served as travel routes for deer.
My “nest” at Bull Gap.
Opening day was like most openers; the sound of quite a few shots ringing through the woods as deer are surprised by the presence of hunters in various places where it was safe to travel before.
Legal shooting time is always ½ hour before sunrise to ½ hour after sunset; this day it began at 6:53 a.m.
During the first hour it was never more than a few minutes between shots – most far off, but some fairly close - probably within ¼ mile or so.
After that they became more spaced out as most of the deer had found cover that either wasn’t being watched or was too thick for hunters to enter.
It was 9 o’clock.
I was looking off to my right as I had heard a small sound, probably made by one or more of the many squirrels that were very active this morning.
Satisfied that there wasn’t a deer moving in that direction, I turned my head back to the left and suddenly saw movement.
A deer was crossing my ridge from right to left about 70 yards away.
It was a buck!
It was at least a fork-horn and perhaps had brow tines or other short points, but I really wasn’t focused on the antlers. I probably wouldn’t have been able to see them without binoculars at that distance anyway.
View down the ridge from my “nest”.
I had a license for an antlerless deer as well as one for a buck, but it’s always great when you see a buck on opening day, since they always seem to become more difficult to find during the rest of the season.
I was immediately struck with how well this deer stood out against the ½ inch of new snow that had fallen in the early morning hours just before dawn (snow was melted by the time the pictures were taken).
But I was also struck by the fact that this buck was limping – badly!
I’ll never know the nature of the injury for sure. My guess was that another hunter had recently shot at him and had given him either a leg or shoulder wound.
But with every step he would limp severely on one front leg, making his body bob up and down very noticeably.
Now for the confessions.
I now know that after raising my rifle and finding him in the scope, I should have made a “stop” sound to see if I could get him to stop.
A standing shot at 70 yards from a seated position is usually pretty do-able for me.
But I didn’t grunt, bleat or whistle.
All I was thinking of was the fact that in just a few seconds he had come up on one side of the ridge, and in just a few more seconds he’d disappear down the other side.
My brain was saying, “You’ve got to shoot soon or he’ll be gone!”
I picked out an opening that he would enter in the next step or two and flicked off the safety.
He bobbed into the opening and into my scope.
I centered the crosshairs on the top of his shoulder blade, going for the high-shoulder shot that puts deer down quickly (something I like to try to do on public land).
I pressed the crisp trigger of my .308 Ruger bolt action rifle.
At the sound of the shot he gave no visible indication of a hit; not the “mule-kick” that can mean a hit almost anywhere; not the wincing “hump” that can signal a hit too far back; not the pell-mell, low-to-the-ground "death dash" that often accompanies a fatal shot to the chest cavity.
He just started bounding on his way in that graceful whitetail gait that says, “I’m not welcome here; I’m gettin’ out of Dodge!”
Two years prior to this I had missed a buck and was so sure of a hit that I didn’t even think about a second shot, expecting it to fall at any moment.
Ever since I had been telling myself that the next time I shot at a deer and it didn’t drop in it’s tracks I was going to follow with another bullet.
So that’s what I did.
But I missed again!
By the time I had a third round in the chamber all I could see were glimpses of a white flag disappearing in the scattered pines down a ridge that ran perpendicular to mine.
I don’t find pleasure shooting at tails.
I left my nest and followed the deer’s bounding tracks for 200 yards, finding no sign of a hit in the snow.
I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that about the time my first bullet reached the buck, he had bobbed down on the low point of his limp. Because I was aiming high on the shoulder, it would have only taken about a 6-inch “bob” for me to shoot over his back.
As far as the second shot goes – well, to hit a bounding whitetail at that distance would be pretty lucky (for me) anyway.
And I guess it wasn’t my lucky day.
That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!
Mute evidence of two misses