My son Eli completed his hunter safety course in April 2019 so he could apply for a learn-to-deer-hunt program later in the spring. Eli was one of the lucky youth hunters to draw a permit, and I would act as his mentor.
In August we attended the required pre-hunt class to learn about the Sandhill Wildlife Area, deer behavior and safe, ethical hunter responsibilities. Each youth hunter was given a section of the property to scout for his hunt. We planned on September and October trips to find the perfect setup for the one-day hunt in November.
The mixture of marsh, sloughs and timber seen on satellite images showed some natural funnels we could check during our scouting trips. Pre-scouting from the computer paid off as we found rubs, trails and a natural funnel leading to a large blowdown we could utilize as a blind. We marked the location on our GPS to make it easy to find in the dark the morning of the hunt.
The alarm went off early on Nov. 2 and we had plenty of time to double-check our equipment. Two inches of snow had fallen overnight and clung to everything. We packed some extra gear just in case things got wet on the way to our stand. We had a lot of gear to carry—much more than I would have like—but we planned on staying all day, and I couldn’t risk Eli getting wet and cold.
After checking in with hunt coordinators and getting Eli’s either-sex permit, we drove to our parking spot. The snow was like a curtain in front of us and a ceiling overhead once we were in the timber. The GPS indicated a direction of due north and a distance of a quarter-mile to our blind. With 40 minutes before shooting time, the 10-minute walk seemed a formality to get our hunt started.
We followed the GPS heading for a short distance and then checked the device again. After another short walk, we were surprised when we crossed our own tracks in the snow. I apologized to Eli and took another GPS reading. Again, we relied on the electronics for direction. We soon found ourselves crossing our path again. We were going in circles. I put the GPS away and grabbed my compass out of my pack. The heavy gear was taking its toll on Eli, so I doubled up on what I was carrying and gave him the unloaded rifle. I had now apologized to Eli a half-dozen times, was sweating through my clothes and the start of shooting time was fast approaching. At that time, darkness was waning, and light began to break in the east. Along with the compass, this gave me some bearings. I said to Eli, "Let's go.” Within 50 yards we found the trail crossing the small marsh, and Eli took the lead when the blowdown, our blind, came into view.
We had made it. A 10-minute walk took almost 50 minutes. I asked Eli for the time, as my glasses were fogged from being overheated. The time was 7:23 a.m., 13 minutes past legal shooting time.
Inside the branches of the blowdown, I arranged the gear, cleared Eli’s rifle barrel of snow and loaded it before handing it back to him. I reminded Eli of where I expected deer to come from and how he should move to get into position for an accurate shot. As if on cue, a deer appeared at 60 yards. I said, “Deer, a buck.” I coached Eli into position as he got a solid rest from a branch within our blind. A quick grunt brought the buck out from behind a tree. I gave the go-ahead with the shot when he was ready. The rifle barked and the buck lurched and ran.
The time was 7:26 a.m. We had been on stand three minutes. After the horrible trip to the stand, we were now laughing at how our luck had changed so quickly. We shared some hot chocolate before heading to where the buck was standing at the shot. Following the tracks in the snow, I found a single pin drop of blood. A glance ahead confirmed a good hit and I said, “Eli, follow this trail and go get your buck.”
My father instilled in me many years ago a great love of the outdoors and hunting. I have now started to do the same for my children, Eli and Ella, and wish them the same enjoyment I have been able to experience.
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