Dreams of venison didn’t come true

I’d hoped to turn Black Friday into Brown Friday, but as happens so often in the deer woods, my dreams of venison didn’t come true.

As far as crowds go, there were no long lines of waiting hunters matching the lines at retail stores that morning, but we did have a total of six hunters in our little 40-acre muzzleloading club (much more than usual). The 40-degree morning was balmy from my ground blind — so warm, in fact, that I didn’t need to run my Mr. Heater propane heater as I had many times since opening day.

I heard exactly two distant shots Friday morning. Every time a deer hunter hears a shot, his spirits soar for a second, and he convinces himself that a small herd of deer with maybe an antlered buck or two is on its way toward him. Yes, that does happen, but it didn’t for me on Black Friday.

The week had been interesting, to say the least.

Opening day had been pretty uneventful, with my friend and novice hunter, Lance Stratton, of Oshkosh, sitting with me in the blind. He saw the quick flash of one deer in the morning, and that was one deer more than he had seen all last season.

On Sunday, we had seen a total of nine deer: five in a cornfield that were several hundred yards away, three that came running on both sides of our blind and one that gave us the best story of the season, but sadly, no venison.

I had crawled out of the blind to relieve myself around 9 a.m., and we joked about taking my gun with me. I wish I had brought my Thompson-Center Encore 50-caliber muzzleloader with me because the story would have had a happier ending.

As I was standing there watering the pine needles, I heard a steady crunch-crunch-crunch, which most days would be a squirrel. Here’s the thing about a squirrel: they are much noisier and make more random, shuffling sounds than a deer. This creature definitely was a deer.

The second I spotted the doe moving slowly toward me through the briars, I turned and whispered as loudly as I dared: “Lance!”

He’d been watching some wild turkeys cavorting in the cornfield, and his response was, “Turkey?”

“No!” I whispered.

Then I watched the doe walk past me to the deer trail, which would put it directly in line with Lance and my Thompson-Center Firehawk 50-caliber muzzleloader. But the doe was showing no sign of slowing down and Lance did not know the sacred ways of stopping deer as a Deer Whisperer.

I will reveal this time-honored technique if you promise to only use it in extreme emergencies, like a lack of venison in the freezer and getting skunked the year before.

“Hey!” I said in a normal speaking voice. “Hey!” I repeated to the doe passing about 25 yards away.

The trick is to not yell loudly, but speak in a normal tone. At the second “Hey,” she stopped like I had flipped a switch.

Unfortunately, she stopped behind three trees in line with Lance’s position. He had no shot. Eventually, the doe began walking again and Lance didn’t shoot. He didn’t feel confident in the shot.

Five minutes later, a shot rang out through the timber. One of the other guys hunting at our club dropped what was probably the same deer. He had seen two deer together, and the second deer was shot about 20 minutes later by yet another hunter at our club.

This latter hunter also shot another small antlerless deer in the afternoon. Sunday was a good day for some hunters, but not Lance and me.

I hunted alone Monday, and Lance joined me again on Tuesday morning. We saw nothing. Wednesday morning was a bone-chilling 15 degrees, and my daughter, Kalispell, planned to join me, but we wisely slept in. She was pretty chipper Wednesday afternoon when she carried the Firehawk with a spritely step.

Once inside the blind, I turned on the heater and she promptly curled up on the ground under a blanket. She later got up and started trying to start a small fire, using sticks piled in a hole in the dirt ignited with a glowing white pine stick stuck in the heater! She is one of the campers in charge of building fires at two Girl Scout camps, and lamented that she didn’t have any dried birch bark along. She finally achieved her goal and made a tiny fire, which had a pungent aroma of roasting pine.

We saw no deer. She then told me how she wanted to try squirrel hunting. I don’t blame her. I’ll be back out there today, and probably Sunday, too.

Then comes muzzleloader-only season. There’s always hope in the deer woods.

Ross Bielema is a freelance writer from New London and owner of Wolf River Concealed Carry LLC. Contact him at Ross@wolfriverccw.com.