First day of deer season more than just tagging a buck

Deer season was enjoyable this year for me. Filling my buck tag on Wednesday afternoon certainly helped the satisfaction, but other factors made this year more fun than some recent seasons.

The best of those was snow. When I began hunting, having snow for the first week of deer season was almost a given, or at least more often than not. For the past couple of decades, however, some snow on the ground during the two weeks of the regular deer season has been the exception rather than the rule.

My personal threshold of boredom is quite short. As nice and easy as it is to sit in a tree stand and snipe deer that happen by, I can only sit on a stand for a couple of hours at most unless I’m seeing some deer. I prefer to still-hunt for deer, slowly walking through the woods watching and waiting. Being successful at that strategy requires total focus and a thorough knowledge of the territory you are hunting. On our family property where I hunt, most days mean hours of trekking across, up and down some steep ridges. Many times, the reward for all that effort is a fleeting glimpse of a deer disappearing into the brush. Even when an opportunity presents itself, you also must be willing and able to make a split-second shot on target most of the time. The odds are slanted totally in favor the deer, but when everything works and I’m able to take a deer by outsmarting it on its own turf, the satisfaction is as good as it gets.

The snowstorm that dumped several inches of the white stuff over our region on Nov. 15 almost seemed like the old days. Snow for the first day of deer season? It was an enticing thought, but opening day was still almost a week and a half away. Warmer weather and rain in the upcoming weather forecast threatened to wipe out the snow cover before the season started. With that in mind, I took a walk in the woods on the Monday before Thanksgiving to do a little scouting. I was encouraged to see lots of deer tracks, probably more sign than I had seen in the last 10 years, even though the snow cover was three or four days old.

The soft snow made for silent walking and great visibility as I creeped across an old logging road that overlooked a wonderful thicket and bedding area. I hadn’t gone 100 yards when I spied a doe bedded among some grapevines. I watched the deer through my binoculars for a few seconds before it bounded down the hill and out of sight. I spent the next two or three hours walking, watching and just enjoying a day in the winter woods. How I wished this could have been the first day of deer season.

Opening day, of course, was nothing like that idyllic afternoon just a week before. Cold, miserable rain persisted from before dawn until early evening. Seeing that forecast, I had made up my mind that I was not going to venture out in it. During my career, I have spent countless hours hunting in the rain and never found it productive. I’ve paid those dues, but I don’t enjoy it. I have never missed the first day of deer season since I started hunting, and I hated to break that string, but decided not to get my rifle, clothes and other gear soaked just for the sake of showing up.

Although the rain took most of the snow, flurries on Tuesday morning put another coating of white on the ground as I got my deer season underway. I started sneaking through the bedding area as I had the week before and soon saw a doe bedded in a thicket. Since I had a DMAP tag for the property, I was happy for the quick opportunity to put some venison in the freezer for the winter. The deer bolted away after my shot, and the follow-up revealed I had missed it cleanly, shooting just over its back.

Later that afternoon, I encountered an old friend who has been hunting this area almost as long as I have. We swapped stories and talked about the old days before going our separate ways. Fifteen minutes later, I kicked a bear out of a raspberry patch not more than 20 yards from me. I worked my way back to my truck just before dark, happy to have spent a day hunting deer the way I most enjoy it.

The next day started off well, as I saw several deer early on, and I managed to miss another doe. I encountered plenty of fresh tracks, so I was hopeful the deer were moving, and I would have a good day. Around 1 o’clock, luck found me, and I downed a buck. Not a trophy by any means, but a fat, young deer that I’ll enjoy eating over the winter. Best of all, I’ll appreciate the memories of a great couple of days of hunting in the snow, my favorite way to do it.