Nebraska Doe Hunt: That Sinking Feeling

After a pair of unsuccessful encounters, I'm more pumped than ever to get my next shot.

Steve Johnson, our contact at Hornady Manufacturing, and my guide for this trip, whispers, “The deer are going to be moving now, I can just feel it. Let’s get you into a blind, then I’ll take Kyle and Tom down to their blind."

Just then, Steve frantically gestures to me. I stare at him, uncomprehending. What does he want?  “Hurry” he hisses. “Big buck up here! Let’s get you one right now!” I wasn’t prepared for this. Not now. Not yet. Buck? Now? Already? But…You can do this! I chide myself. Don’t be a princess! Get up there!

“Use the fencepost as a rest,” Steve coaches. “Don’t forget to cock the rifle…”

I take a step onto the snowy field, only to sink up to my thigh into an invisible depression. I lose my balance.

Years of training with guns leap up. Don’t muzzle the people behind you! I scream to myself. And then the other foot slides off into the dip, and I rock back into a crouch on my heels. Stand up, my brain commands my legs. For the first time in my life, a body part responds to my brain. Here’s what my legs said: Nuts to you! I was standing in 30 inches of snow. I finally find the fencepost, lay the gun down and cock it. I look down the scope, and see…the buck’s flag flipping me an insouciant “buh-bye” as he skips off into cover.

That Sinking Feeling (Again)
Steve installs me in the ground blind he’s set up at the base of a stand of cedars. “If you see a deer,” he says, “go ahead and shoot it. I’ll be back with you as soon as I can.”

I sit back. I doubt I’ll see another deer before Steve gets back, but I keep my eyes peeled all the same. Ten minutes go by, then 20. I’m starting to relax a little when two does appear from my right.

I steady my breathing, and bring the muzzle up. I whistle softly, hoping to get one to pause. Sure enough, it does, turning its narrow face towards me, presenting a beautiful broadside shot. I center the crosshair just on its shoulder, let my breath out a little, and squeeze the trigger. Just like I’ve been taught. Ffffff-BANG roars the muzzleloader.

When the gun comes back down, the deer are gone. But this didn’t feel right. Was that a hangfire? I wonder. Did I miss? Oh, no. Did I wound it? I take a deep breath.

I get out of the blind, head over to where the does were standing, and begin to follow their trail. No hair here; no blood. But I know from reading that they don’t always start bleeding right away. I need to keep following these tracks. Half an hour later, Steve appears behind me. Together we retrace my steps, combing the trail the deer made, finding nothing. Steve agrees that I missed the deer clean, and theorizes that my gun did hangfire. He sees my downcast look. “You can blame this one on the gun,” he grins.

“I always thought it was a cop-out when writers did that,” I gloom back. He just laughs.

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