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“Late for Lunch” Deer Hunt January 2017
Gerhard Schroeder  

Sometimes we end up breaking a promise. We may even do so intentionally, fully aware of it all.

On opening day of our 2016 Whitetail-only deer hunt, the alarm had trouble getting my attention at 2AM. While packing the last items into the ice chests I enjoyed a smallish peanut butter sandwich. Steve, not hunting but coming along for the experience, and because he’d be hunting Unit 22 for whitetail two weeks later, was on time, and by 3AM we arrived at Ron’s place. He was ready as well, and we rolled past Payson to our previously scouted out ‘secret’ location. Rough road conditions apparently had kept away any other hunters. By first light I was in my hiding spot overlooking a waterhole. That seemed like a best bet due to dry conditions which had reigned for days, if not weeks.

Besides the waterhole and a little open area near it, the place was thick with trees. Meaning, there wasn’t much to look at. Other than my watch. And that thing showed me that time was passing oh so slowly. A small internal celebration happened after the first hour had passed. That’s when I promised my belly the banana at 8AM. Thank God for the entertainment from a busy bunch of blue birds inspecting nearby bushes, some cute chipmunk sunning on top of a tall pale stump, and the occasional raven flying by. 8AM came, and that banana went down. It felt like my belly wanted more. Too bad. By my own choosing and restraining, the next meal would be at high noon.

At 10 AM I celebrated half-time to that deer salami sandwich, apple and granola bar still hidden in my pack. Maybe every ten to fifteen minutes I would slowly get up, then stand in the shadow of the tree, the one tree, by the way, offering shade and still allowing an oversight of the entire waterhole. It took hugging that tree to get its shade. In fact, I made a conscious decision to make any movement in slow motion. Heck, I had the time, and I wanted to remain unnoticed should anything approach that water. To break up my outline somewhat and at the same time establish some type of support for a rifle shot I had positioned a manly branch against the tree, angling to the ground. Off that I hung my earplugs, and the Tikka was leaning against it as well.

OK, here is proof that “never” is a very long time. I’d always said that I would never hunt big game with a .243 Win., because I outright don’t like that caliber, more accurately its case design. Now that Tikka leaning next to me had “.243 Win” stamped into its barrel. Long story short (if you want to know why I own a .243 in the first place, ask me some day and I’ll tell you) … here are the arguments for taking my .243 on this deer hunt: This was for the smaller whitetail, for which I consider the .243 Win. having sufficient knockdown power, even with a longer shot; In a deal of 500 pulled bullets (they came at a very low price, of course) I found 69 to be 100 grain Nosler Partitions, and one of them was now chambered; A .243 clearly kicks less than a .308; But most importantly, on this Tikka, the barrel was already threaded. I had hoped that I’d be in possession of a Sig Sauer suppressor by this deer hunt and dialed my rifle in accordingly. But I gave ATF way too much credit. No approval for that can yet.

Meanwhile the bird situation had not changed, but no furry critter of any kind had visited the water’s edge. Each hour seemed to take longer. More frequent looking at my watch certainly did not help. And all that would not change for the next long minutes towards noon.

I remember last looking at that bedeviled watch at 11:48, and promising my belly food real soon. I was standing at that moment, and transitioned back to sitting. As soon as I was on my chair I saw a deer, in the open across the waterhole past its berm. It was a whitetail for sure. My hands slowly reached for the binos around my neck when the deer revealed obvious antlers. I dropped the binos, slowly grabbed the ear plugs, even slower inserted both deeply, then carefully took control of my rifle and moved my support hand onto the leaning branch. As soon as I had view through the scope I watched the deer cautiously advance towards the water … and in doing so disappear behind the berm.

Obvious buck fever grabbed me when my neck suggested that the swirling wind which had been on and off all morning was now blowing perfectly from me towards that deer. Would he smell me? Would he bolt away in panic? Where was he anyway? One of those small eternities passed before he finally showed up again, now with front legs on top of the berm, hind legs still somewhat downhill. He stood like that, still, maybe seventy yards out, and looking right my way. Did he make me??? The cross hairs settled on the upper section of his neck, purposely to minimize meat damage, quite steady despite my heart rate. I squeezed! There was indeed almost no felt recoil, no ringing of ears, and a silent “wow” rolled off my lips as I watched that buck rear up and flip over backwards, and out of sight again.

I stood up, chambered another round. That way I could see most of him again, and he was not expired yet. Yes, I hate neck shots! So little margin. But I hate ruining meat even more, and especially intestines mulched by a bullet. Partitions are known to go deep. That’s why I had not aimed at his stern. He now acted very sick, stunned. But running to him would mean not seeing him for as long as it would take me to move the entire length of that waterhole. And his body was mostly behind that berm. And I did not want to shoot him through his back. When his neck came clear I sent another Partition. That ended it. I thanked God for his creation and this deer. More than once.

“Suck it up” is what I told my belly out loud. Now there was a different priority, game meat. It was certainly not cold, at noon. And I like to take care of venison as expediently as possible. Instead of wolfing down that sandwich I immediately approached my buck, did the “poke the eyeball” test, dragged him to a nearby tree, tagged him and did the red work in the shade. Then I transferred my pack and chair from the hiding spot to the deer, left those items there along with my jacket, and with a brisk gait returned to the 4Runner. By 2PM my buck was hanging in a perfect for it tree in camp, skinned, wrapped in a deer bag to keep the flies and yellow jackets away, cooling in the shade. Oh, as you can see, my focus on game meat was so intense that I did not even think about taking pictures. That thought came when his pants were already half down. Finally did I wash my hands and enjoyed ‘lunch’, and yes, with an extra brownie and cookie or three, as celebration of a perfect deer hunting day. This buck was a smallish 3x4.

Ron also happened to be in camp. He had heard my shots. After some discussions he opted to sit at the same waterhole for the rest of opening day. Returning at last light, no other critter had come in. Dinner was delicious. Marinated steaks from my 2015 deer and fresh vegetables from Ron’s garden can’t be beat. Ron would sit that water hole again on Saturday.

I was up and out of bed first, still in the dark, eating breakfast and getting ready to de-bone my animal. That’s when lights appeared in the distance, coming our way. Oh, oh. Ron may lose his place at the waterhole. But the ATV driver stopped when his high beams discovered our camp, and returned the way he’d come. That got Ron out of the feathers, and before first light he departed for my secret spot.

Deboning was all done by about 8AM. From then on Steve and I killed time talking guns, hunting, reading shooting magazines, arguing over red dot vs scope, etc. Lunch came and went. Shadows got longer and temperatures climbed. (Finally) at 3:11, Ron’s rifle barked. We waited for a call from him, texted him. No response. Maybe ten long minutes later I called his number. He answered with ‘bring the truck’.

Here is his story:

His hours also crawled by oh, so slowly. He minimized his boredom by playing with his smart phone, playing bird songs, responding to ravens, etc.

At one time he mooed at a fat black range bull when it came in for a drink. Mistake! Because that bull then focused on Ron’s position. Who knows if that beast was in some type of rut, and Ron made him hopeful.

Eventually a deer appeared. But Ron could only see it through brush. And that boy got to the water’s edge exactly where only his head was clear as he sucked his refreshment. Meanwhile Ron’s buck fever peaked. He had never before taken a deer. When the deer departed, he did so the way he had come.

That forced Ron to step out of hiding. Shaking like mad and from offhand Ron did have a shot when the buck came into an opening way past the waterhole. He called it pure luck that his Tikka .30-06 connected. The 180 grainer did land a few inches too far back. And when recoil subsided, the buck was nowhere to be seen. But at least neither did he see it running anywhere. So began his frantic search, with adrenaline still shaking his system

When my call came he had just found his buck, about thirty steps from where he had shot at it. ‘Bring the truck’ is all he wanted tell me at that time.

Ron’s first buck

When I reached him, Ron had calmed down some, and was just beginning the red – well, in this case more like green work. We finished it together, then repeated the process I had gone through a day earlier. Ron’s buck, a 3x3, but clearly wider than mine, hung in the same tree.

This of course shortened our hunt a bit. Steve served burgers from his 2015 deer for dinner. Time around the camp fire was truly special, re-telling and reflecting on such a successful and enjoyable hunt.

Sunday morning we worked Ron’s buck while Steve took down camp. We left that special place with smiles on our faces, wondering how soon the luck of the draw might allow us to come again.

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