This was going to be the year. I told you that a month ago, didn’t I? Remember? I was in one of my overly optimistic moods — those are quite common, you might have noticed — and I was virtually certain that this was the year I was finally going to bag myself a big ol’ buck.
Who am I kidding? I wasn’t even looking for a big buck. Any buck would have been fine with me. (When your deerless streak stretches all the way back through three presidential elections, it’s a bit too late to get picky, I figure).
And here I sit, a month later … deerless. Again.
I could claim that I’ve been so darned busy writing stories about all the monstrous deer that everybody else shot, I never had time to get in the woods. I could say that a steady diet of interviews with teens who are filling their tags with 240-pound deer left me too frustrated to get out of bed and hunt.
Neither are true, of course.
This year, I tried (again). I hunted a lot (again). The deer didn’t participate in exactly the way I’d planned. But that doesn’t mean I spent a boring, uneventful month in the woods.
Far from it, in fact.
Let’s be clear on one thing, though: I did spend hours and hours in the woods, waiting for deer that never showed up. And yes, that did get a little … monotonous.
Along the way, however, I had several experiences that were pretty cool, if frustrating.
And most involved eight-point bucks.
Like that Friday afternoon midway through November, when I abandoned my ground blind, drove a mile or two up a small mountain, and set up on a ridge covered by oak trees.
Oaks = acorns. Acorns = deer chow. Deer chow = deer. That, at least, was my thought.
And seeing as I’d seen nothing resembling a deer from my blind, or on my trail camera, I figured a change of venue might suit me well.
With a half hour of legal shooting left, chilled to the bone, I waddled back to my truck, turned on the heat, and sat, warming up.
Most days, I come out of the woods earlier than my buddies. And most days, I arrive at the turnout where we always park, stand on the edge of the dirt road, and watch the woods, hoping for a stray deer to show up.
That day, I didn’t do that. Instead, I sat on the top of that little mountain, heater blasting, for at least 10 minutes.
When I arrived at the parking area, a pickup truck was stopped in the middle of the road, right where I usually stand after a day of hunting, as I wait for buddies to get out of the woods.
Two men stood beside the truck, rifles in hand.
“We just saw an eight-pointer,” they said, pointing to a spot about 20 yards from the end-of-day position I’ve patrolled dozens of times over the past decade. “It stood there forever. Then we got out and tried to load our guns, and it ran off.”
The next morning was Saturday, and I headed toward our hunting spot a bit later than normal. While driving through Holden, I saw a flash of movement streaking toward me from the left.
In rapid succession, my mind processed the situation. Animal. Deer. BUCK. EIGHT-POINT BUCK!
The deer bounded across busy Route 1A a mere 20 yards in front of me and disappeared.
That made two eight-pointers in less than 24 hours. As an eternal optimist, I began to attach special meaning to the events.
They had to be omens, I told myself. This is the year. Maybe I was going to get an eight-pointer of my own.
Or maybe not.
Four days later, my buddy Pete Warner took his son Will into the woods we often frequent. It was raining, and I texted him with a suggestion: Go to our other friend’s large blind. It would be dry. There are two chairs there. Have fun.
At around 1 p.m., Will shot his first deer.
It was an eight-point buck.
That weekend, I decided another change of plans was in order. Frustrated by the lack of activity near my blind, I moved it to another location, closer to a brook and swamp. Then I moved my trail camera from a tree near the old location (where it had captured photos of nothing but a chubby middle-aged hunter who looks just like me), to a new spot on the edge of the swamp.
I also swapped out memory cards, so I could admire all of the photos (of me) that I’d captured in the previous spot.
That night, I was shocked to learn that I also had four photos of (you guessed it) an eight-point buck … which had walked right past my blind.
Of course, my blind was no longer in that location, which I’d abandoned in favor of supposedly greener pastures.
And of course, that was the last eight-pointer (or deer, for that matter) I saw all season.
So no, this was not the year. No, I did not get my deer. But yes, I did end up with plenty of things to second-guess over the next 11 months, as I await yet another great deer season.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke