My First Whitetail - Surprise!
I can still remember as a kid watching my dad get ready for his annual deer hunting trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with his buddy. I’d smell the fragrance of Hoppe’s #9 solvent drifting through the house – a sure sign that he was giving his old Model 94 Winchester chambered in .32 Special a good pre-hunt cleaning. I would help him lay out his gear and wish for the day when I was old enough to accompany him. When I finally reached the required age (17 in Michigan then), I was unable to get enough time off school to go. After graduation, there was a year of Community College and then 3 years in the military, so I was 22 before I was finally able to go on my first whitetail hunt.
The method of hunting that my dad taught me was to simply find a “good-looking” spot and sit on a small, collapsible stool with the wind in your face. This method of “standing”, or “posting” as it’s commonly called in the U.P., relied on other hunters moving the game into your field of view. Because of the heavy covering of very crisp leaves on the ground, any method that required silent movement was virtually impossible. In the area we were hunting, visibility was almost always limited to 100 yards, and often to no more than 50. Carrying another Model 94 that I had borrowed from my uncle, I sat in various spots for the first two days without my even getting a glimpse of the quarry that I so desperately wanted to bring down.
As I sat with my back against a tree on the third and final day of our hunt I heard a loud, crunching sound that I believed had to be another hunter walking clumsily through the hardwoods. Looking toward the sound I was astonished to see a mature doe bounding through the woods on a course that would pass me by at no more than 20 yards. Having grown up around guns and being a fair shot, I was certain that this deer was practically committing suicide, and my quest for my first whitetail was about to end. As she approached, I raised the rifle, put the front sight tight behind her shoulder and touched it off. The deer never faltered, but continued to bound over a small ridge and out of sight.
While I was looking for any sign of a hit, my dad came over to see what had happened. When we found nothing, he asked me to replay the shot in my mind. When I got to the part about the front sight being behind the shoulder, he said, “And where was the rear sight?” I had to admit that I had no idea where the rear sight was in my sight picture, and that I had probably shot well over the deer’s back.
Opening day of the next year found us both toting brand-new Remington 742 autoloaders in .30-06 with 2.5x Weaver scopes on top. The sound of gunfire rang through the woods, but it wasn’t until mid-afternoon that I saw a deer – actually 5 or 6 deer running flat-out through the woods, “carrying the mail”, as we have come to call it. Only having a license for a buck this year, I scanned the group for antlers, which I found on the last deer. He was going to present a passing shot at about 50 yards, so I found him in the scope and sent a bullet flying at him. Again, the entire group continued their pell-mell flight through the hardwoods as if nothing had happened. I walked over to where I had shot to look for indication of a hit. Puzzled at finding nothing, I turned to look back at the spot I had been sitting only to see the back side of an 8” oak tree completely blown away about 2 feet above the ground! I had drilled it dead center, and if any part of the bullet had struck the deer (which was doubtful), it would have probably been badly fragmented and mostly spent. About that time it began to snow – a wet, heavy snow that made sitting very miserable. After only another hour or so I headed back to our tent early.
That evening while in a local restaurant we overheard another hunter at the next table telling about building a small fire in the woods to dry his gloves. “Deer aren’t bothered by fire or smoke”, he said, “They see it all the time from lightning strikes and such.” I put that bit of information into my growing catalogue of deer hunting wisdom, but doubted that I would ever use it.
The morning of the second day passed without my seeing “hide nor hair” of anything except squirrels. There was a splotchy covering of snow on the ground, and the woods were noisy with the dripping of the melting snow off the trees. I was sitting against a deadfall to break up my outline, and happened to think of what the man had said about fire and smoke. My gloves were also wet by then, so I began breaking small twigs off my cover tree and made a small fire about 2 feet in front of me. It was an easy task to break off several larger branches and occasionally toss them on the fire to keep it going. It did make a lot of smoke, however, and it drifted down through the woods, staying close to the ground because the air was heavy. “Good thing it doesn’t spook the deer”, I thought, “Because there sure is a lot of it right now.”
I had barely finished that thought when I spotted movement coming from the direction the smoke was traveling. A young fork-horned buck suddenly materialized out of the smoke like a ghost. Surprise! He stopped about 40 yards away and stood looking in my direction. Harvesting my first whitetail was as simple as slowly lifting the rifle and shooting him as he watched me do it! He dropped in his tracks, and I joined the ranks of millions of hunters who know the thrill of being a successful deer hunter.