Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Un-Dead Deer

I recently watched a video on the internet of a young man who shot a deer and went running to find it. 
After a short search he came upon the nice buck lying on it’s side. He poked it with the barrel of his gun and it didn't move. But as he reached to grab a hold of it, it suddenly jumped up and took off. Scaring the daylights out of the young hunter. You can see it here:  

My life long friend, fishing and hunting companion Jeff and I had something similar happen to us once. 
It was about 15 years ago, we had both already gotten our bucks opening day and purchased another license so we could continue hunting. We decided to go up to his paternal grandmother’s old farm for an evening hunt. We got there plenty early and were taking our time getting set to head for the woods.
It was a beautiful warm autumn day with almost no breeze. We decided to walk the ridge-line above the Pinebog River to the neighbors homemade bridge, so we could cross the stream without getting our feet wet.  As we neared the ridge we could hear the buzz of the bees from the ancient hives nearby. We went and checked them out and saw that they were as busy as bees always are on a nice sunny day. We had struck up a conversation about the bees and old farm life when we came to a stop at the top of the ridge. Looking out over river, we surveyed  the wide swampy flats. That’s when I saw it. A deer laying on its side all stretched out next to a big old log. My .58 caliber Zouve Musket automatically came off my shoulder, cocked and into firing position. (Since I had meat in the freezer I decided to leave my trusty shotgun home and had  taken my old smoke pole to see if I could get my first deer with it. Here in lower Michigan we are limited to using  either shotguns or muzzle-loaders.)  Jeff spotted the deer about the same time as I and was also into firing position.  One of us asked the other “Is it a buck or doe?” at the same time as the other asked if it was alive.

While I covered it, Jeff rummaged through his pack for his binoculars.  It would be a difficult shot, we were standing about 90 ft. almost straight above the river and it was laying broadside about 30 feet from the bank about 70 yards from us. From all of our target  practice behind my parents house at the old gravel pit, I was pretty confident about how much drop I should give the aim with my .22 but I wasn't using that. My muzzle-loader was sighted in at 100 yards, but with the load I was using it was still on the upwards trajectory and it was pretty close at 400 yards, on the downwards side. I was madly figuring calculations in my head. Around this area things are pretty flat and most of our shots are horizontal and better measured in feet than yards.

What was taking Jeff so long? With all of the noise we had been making I figured that it must be dead or almost. It hadn't so much as twitched an ear and this damn gun was getting heavy. Jeff finally said “It’s a doe and it doesn't seem to be breathing and it's eyes are open.”

Thank God, my arms were turning to jelly.  As seasoned hunters we knew better than to trust a deer with it's eyes closed in death. We had heard the stories and knew enough to put another round in a supposedly dead deer. We talked over what we should do. Jeff wanted me to shoot it, but I would rather save my best shot on a live target since I didn't bring any cleaning equipment along. So we looked for a stone for him to throw. It was close, but still no movement. So we headed for the bridge.

As we came closer we thought for sure was dead. She was a small probably year old deer. But we saw no blood or wounds. Jeff poked it with his gun barrel and then poked it harder. Still not so much as a twitch. Jeff  felt it’s side and found it was still warm. We talked it over and decided to gut it.

Jeff put his gun down and grabbed his knife as I stood guard. Many a big bucks have been missed while hunter's are busy doing other .... things.  As he grabbed it’s leg to turn it over jumped up and took off. Jeff fell backwards and grabbed his gun. It must have been breathing so shallowly that we never detected any signs of it. When she came to life, she headed for the river. It was only about 12 feet wide and about a foot deep there.  She jumped in the water but was stopped by the high bank on the other side. She turned around and stood there looking at us, gasping for breath and shaking,  as we were looking at her through our gun sights for any signs of injury. She looked very healthy and very scared, but little else. I told Jeff to look for blood on the ground where she had been laying. He said there was none, so we let her go.

She must have been very tired or very scared to put up with all of our shenanigans. With all of the noise we had been making and poking, it was unbelievable. When we crossed the bridge she had of opportunity to escape. Even though I had a doe permit and was itching to try out my muzzle loader, I felt good about letting her go.

And the “why's and what if’s” make a much better conversation than any shot I might have made.    
Sometimes while hunting, the experience and the story are worth more than the meat.