Putting some venison in the freezer was my mission last week when I took a few days off from work so I could spend as much time as possible in the tree stand during the peak of the whitetail rut.
On a couple of different occasions, my lovely wife, Amber, reminded me that the meat from the young buck she shot during the 2016 gun season was long gone. She made sure that I knew that putting some fresh venison in our freezer should be my No. 1 priority.
Leading up to last week’s deer hunting vacation, I had three prime opportunities to harvest a nice large doe that stood less than 10 yards from my stand. Each time I seriously considered releasing an arrow, which would have likely put some tender backstraps on the dinner table, but I just couldn’t do it. With the whitetail rut drawing near, having a mature doe as a regular visitor would only be a good thing when the rut arrived in the upcoming days.
The first sit of my hunting vacation came on Sunday, Nov. 5, when I sat in the same tree from sunup to sundown. At about 9 a.m., I had a buck dogging a doe through the brush about 50 yards to the south of me. The cover was too thick to get a good look at the deer as they moved out of sight, and few grunt calls went unanswered.
About 10 minutes after the doe and buck moved on, I pulled my rattling antlers out of my pack. I hoped a brief rattling sequence would bring the buck back, but before I could even put the horns down, a different curious buck showed up to the west. He wasn’t big, and he came in so fast, he spotted me as I tried to hang up the horns and grab my bow. As quick as he appeared, he turned and left.
The only other deer I spotted that day was a large doe shortly before dark. She was all alone as she snuck in behind me and presented another opportunity to put venison in the freezer, but I saw no reason to shoot now. The next time I would see her, she very well might not be alone.
That night I returned home to tell my wife I had again passed up a nice doe. She made sure to let me know how much she would appreciate some fresh venison. I was starting to wonder if I would regret not shooting the doe when I had the chance. The pressure was starting to mount.
On Monday, I couldn’t get in the tree until about 12:30 p.m. The afternoon was pretty slow until about 4:30 p.m. when behind me I heard a deer approaching. As I looked over my shoulder, I could see a doe heading my way. At that point I was seriously considering shooting the doe if she came in once again, but before I could even make that decision, I heard the unmistakable sound of a buck grunting behind her. She was no longer alone. She had picked up a boyfriend.
I prepared for a possible shot opportunity, but instead of continuing my way, the two deer veered east into some thick cover. Before the buck disappeared for the night, I got a good look at him. He wasn’t huge, but plenty big enough for my liking. I would be back the next morning hoping to see him again.
On Tuesday, I was back in the same tree at daybreak. I wondered if the buck and doe I saw the previous night were still in the area. That question was answered at about 10 a.m., when I could hear deer chasing and a buck grunting in the bedding area to the east. While I couldn’t see the deer, I felt pretty confident that a buck and a doe – likely the same two deer I saw the previous evening – were probably bedded within 100 yards of my tree stand.
I didn’t see or hear those deer again – or any other deer – until just before 4 p.m. That was when I heard the buck start grunting in the bedding area to the east. With my attention turned their way, a doe busted out of the cover with the same buck I had seen almost 24 hours earlier not far behind. The two deer bolted past my stand at about 20 yards, but because they were moving so fast, I never had a chance to even think about taking a shot.
As I watched the two deer disappear down a trail to the west, I figured my one opportunity for the day had come and gone. But just then I could hear the two deer getting closer again, and within seconds, I spotted them looping back to my stand. The doe went past and the buck was about five seconds behind. As he headed my way, I knew I had to find a way to stop him.
I drew my bow back and when the buck cleared a large pine tree about 25 yards away, I hollered “HEY!!!” To my surprise, the buck froze in his tracks, giving me just enough time to send an arrow his way.
The arrow connected, but I knew right away the shot wasn’t perfect. With only one hour of daylight left, I made the immediate decision to not look for the deer until the following morning.
I didn’t get a lot of sleep that night, but I was also pretty confident the buck wouldn’t go far. That morning I met my dad before beginning the search. We were able to track the buck for about 100 yards before losing the trail near a small pond on the property. We decided to continue the search by circling the edge of the pond, and just before completing the circle, I spotted the buck laying dead under a small pine tree just a few yards from the edge of the pond.
The buck – which was the first I had taken since 2011 – was a 9-pointer with a 16-inch inside spread. But even better than the nice rack was the pile of venison I was able to put in my freezer, and my happy wife who would no longer have to remind me that our freezer was getting empty.