Forecasters predicted rain, and lots of it, for the opening day of Wisconsin’s 9-day 2004 gun season. The skies looked unsettled and ornery as we drove north to our central Wisconsin cabin. There’d be 12 hunters gathered together this year, all from my close- knit hunting family, and I eagerly anticipated my 2nd rifle season outfitted with my new Thompson Center Encore .243. Though a long time bowhunter, I was still new to gun season and optimistically spoke to the others of my hoped-for success this year.
It was dark when I was awakened by the familiar kitchen stirrings of opening morning; coffee gurgling, shuffling slippered feet, muffled early morning discussions of who was going to which of the many stands we have scattered over our 600 acres of hunting land, and laughter, as memories of previous gun season "shenanigans" were recalled. I laid still for a moment enjoying the cabin chatter outside of my bedroom door and felt a smile creep across my face, when my attention was averted to the weather going on outside of my bedroom window. I could hear the steady patter of rain upon the fallen leaves, although it seemed to be slowing. It wouldn’t keep me indoors I thought as I hopped out of bed and began dressing in light layers and rain gear, appropriate for the warm, low 50 degree temps which were so un-typical of opening day in Wisconsin. After a quick breakfast, I headed to my API climber I’d left positioned on a tree the previous afternoon.
Silence had replaced the steady patter of raindrops heard earlier in the darkness, and while I loved walking silently and undetected to my stand, I wondered if the morning movement would mimic the weather and be quiet as well. I climbed up in my tree, settled in, and waited to hear the first shot of the season. It was an amazing fifteen minutes after opening before I heard the first shot from the west of me. Shortly after, a flurry of shooting continued to the west and I sincerely hoped one was from a member of our hunting party who was positioned at the western edge of our property. I saw nothing, but enjoyed listening to the shooting activity, wanting to know more about what was taking place in that section of the woods!
Mid-morning our hunting party did a deer drive on a 160-acre tract of land we own down the road from our cabin. Once again, I saw nothing, but I thoroughly enjoyed executing the drive and was thrilled as I approached one of our newer hunters, Andrew, age 15, who informed me he’d just shot his first buck! I reached him first, to find him kneeling next to his forked buck and congratulated him on his success.
After lunch, I was restless. Being "skunked" on my much-anticipated opening day didn’t sit well with me and I anxiously headed to my afternoon stand at 1:30pm. Once settled into my Gorilla hang-on stand located on a small neck between two ridges, I slid a 100 grain bullet into my Thompson Center .243 and relaxed, enjoying the overcast and comfortable November day. Most gun seasons in Wisconsin require several warm layers of clothing to keep the freezing temps at bay, yet the temperature still hovered around 50 degrees, with a cold-front promised for late afternoon. Perfect.
At 3:15 I detected a patch of brown among the thick brush on the ridge south of me and raised my binoculars to check it out. (I must admit, for years now I often left my binoculars back at the cabin, preferring to avoid the extra bulk in my fanny pack. I also wouldn’t wear them loose around my neck for fear they’d interfere with my bowhunts. Now I wear them on each and every hunt since I discovered Crooked Horn Outfitters "Bino System"…I absolutely love how they hold my compact binoculars securely against my body but easily within reach at a moment’s notice.)
I spotted a nice-sized deer just 60 yards north of me on a ridge. Heavy brush and trees prevented me from getting a clear view of its head, but from the size I guessed it to be a doe and readied myself for a shot. (I had three tags in all; two "bonus" doe tags and one either-sex tag.) The deer wormed its way through the brush and I followed its body with my scope. My heart began pumping "overtime" as it cleared the brush at just 25 yards away. I got my first clear picture of its head and my heart sank as I spotted two very small spikes. Dang it! I was so ready to shoot. I lowered my Encore and sat back down watching the young buck as he wove his way in and out of the small popple trees on his way south.
I had just checked my watch when I unconsciously felt my eyes drawn back to the ridge north of me. I was surprised at my own reaction when I noticed a deer just just cresting the ridge 100 yards to the north and calmly raised my gun and peered through the scope. I instantly I.D.’d it as a buck, easily spotting its white main beams, but thinking (for someone so accustomed to bowhunting) that this would be a long shot. As I stood there eyeing the buck through my scope, it surprised me how easily I found my target and how "do-able" this shot now seemed. He stood there looking around, and I decided quickly it was time to gently squeeze the trigger before he moved. Having nothing to lean on or use to steady my shot, I reminded myself to "hold steady" and gently squeeze…BAM! I watched as he jumped, ran, then curled back to the north where he’d just come from, and disappeared. I kept watching for more movement…nothing. I wasn’t even sure I’d hit him. I sat back down, carefully re-creating the shot and "marking" the spot I’d shot him at so I’d be sure to know where to begin my search for blood. It was 4pm – I decided to wait 20 minutes before getting down. I wanted to give him plenty of time, but I also wanted to give myself time to locate first blood before darkness set in at 5pm. At 4:20, not a second more, I climbed down from my tree-stand, re-loaded and slowly walked, gun ready, towards the top of the ridge. I was just halfway there when I heard a commotion behind me. I spun around to see two nice does running directly behind my west to east, and I quickly shouldered my .243. One doe hesitated broadside just 30 yards south of me. I zeroed in on her shoulder and shot quickly. She crashed through the brush and I knew I’d made a good hit, so I continued onto the ridge-top to search for buck blood. Just minutes later, I had the blood trail marked…I was ecstatic! Pink and bubbly, I discovered I’d made a good hit in the lungs, and now returned back down the ridge to mark first blood on my doe. I found my second blood trail quickly, marked it as darkness set in and was joined by two other members of my hunting party, eager to know more details from me!
It was closing time, so we returned to the cabin to leave our guns behind and to get more trailing/dragging help and grab a Coleman lantern. We located my 9-point buck first, just 80 yards north of where I’d shot him, a perfect lung shot! After I gutted him, we headed for my doe, locating her just 50 yards south of where I’d shot her and discovered I’d made another super shot through her shoulder and heart. I’d gotten both my first, and my second, gun deer with my Encore .243 and couldn’t have been more surprised at my luck or a happier hunter!
© December 2004