Doe hunting success doesn’t always come easy
Have you ever experienced having something right in front of you when you weren’t seeking it, but then when you were, it seemingly was nowhere to be found? Such seemed to be the case for me this rifle season, at least to start, when I was trying my hardest to take an antlerless deer for Hunters Sharing the Harvest.
Having secured my annual venison needs by taking a buck and doe in archery season, I was out on the first day of the buck-only portion of firearms season hunting a Deer Management Assistance Program area for does, (which is legal for those possessing a DMAP tag for their specific locations).
I figured this would be a great way to continue hunting, while possibly even helping some families in need of meat security, if I were lucky enough to harvest and donate a deer. Easy enough, I thought, since I had seen plenty of does in archery season, when I was really holding out for a buck.
But on this rainy opener, I only had quality shot opportunities at two legal bucks – one a big 8-pointer at 25 yards, and the other a 5-pointer at 5 yards. Had I not previously filled my buck tag, I could’ve easily shot either deer, but as it often goes, I was doe hunting.
To be fair, I did see two antlerless deer later that morning, but they were running up the mountain about 100 yards away, it was pouring outside by that point, and my scope wasn’t the clearest. Knowing I’d only get one chance with my inline muzzleloader, I decided to pass on the less-than-ideal shot.
Fast forward to Saturday, when the concurrent buck/doe season opened up. With a 4C antlerless tag in my pocket, I decided to hunt a tract of public ground where there was plenty of deer sign, and even the possibility of an occasional bear moving through during this final day of the extended bear season.
While I didn’t see any does or bears, I did get an excellent glimpse of a nice 7-pointer and a smaller 6-pointer sneaking past at 30 yards. If only it could be that easy when I am actually buck hunting.
The last Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of the firearms season each saw consecutive sits behind my house after work, attempting to fill my 5B antlerless tag with my long bow. Each night produced deer sightings, but no close-range shots, so it was down to the final Saturday if I was going to accomplish my goal.
I decided to invite my good friend Zach to join me in returning to the 4C public ground where I had seen the two bucks the previous week. Zach only started hunting a few years ago, and he shot a nice archery buck in his second year, but nothing since then. He also had a 4C doe tag, so the plan was to put him where I encountered the two bucks, and I would go sit in a different location at first light.
By 9 a.m., I had deer crawling all over the place, but I was a prisoner inside my own body, unable to move an inch. Seated at the base of a tree on a south-facing hillside, I heard footsteps coming from the thicket to my right. As I turned, I saw a group of four does headed my way. If they continued, they’d come right to me and offer a 10-yard shot as they cleared the thick brush.
Considering the circumstances, I thought this would be an incredible opportunity to take a deer with my .357 revolver, so I carefully laid down my rifle and removed my pistol from its holster. Turning to brace for a shot and cock the hammer, the lead doe, now 30-yards away, picked me out two-thirds into the process.
As wise old deer often do, she locked right on me and the 20-minute stare down began. I stayed completely still, hoping she’d eventually settle down and continue on the trail, but she never wavered in her icy stare. She tried the head-dip trick, the wobble neck, and the false look-away, but I never budged.
The rest of the deer were unaware. One bedded down, while the other two gobbled acorns. But old Bessie had me pegged. In time, my twisted muscles began to tremble, I grew weary from only half-breathing into the collar of my jacket to hide the wisps of vapor escaping my mouth, and even my vision started to blur. I could barely take it anymore when I heard footsteps behind me.
Out of the corner of my left eye, I could see three deer moving down the mountain below me. Finally, she took her eyes off me to look their way, giving me the much needed relief from my discomfort, and I couldn’t help but look to see what those deer were as well – three does. At this point, the new does were now in the thick bottom, so I quickly returned to the original four, only to see their white behinds disappearing back into the thicket from whence they came. I had missed my chance.
Discouraged but determined, I called Zach and proposed a one-man deer drive. He had not yet seen a deer, so I sent him a few hundred yards out the mountain, and told him I would walk the laurel-covered bottom back to him. Maybe I could push some of these deer his way. He agreed to give it a try.
An hour later, as I was quietly poking my way through the thicket, I jumped several deer, and they headed in Zach’s direction. Minutes passed, and I heard one single shot ring out. When I reached Zach he was smiling and I soon discovered why. Three does came right to him, and he made a 20-yard heart shot on a huge doe. She piled up within sight.
We spent the next several hours field-dressing, securing, and poling Zach’s second career deer a mile back to the truck over rocky mountainous terrain. It was leg-burning, heart-thumping, back-testing work, but I was so happy to share in my friend’s success story.
Though I failed in my attempt to take a deer for Hunters Sharing the Harvest, I succeeded in helping my good buddy fill his freezer with a year’s worth of venison, and to me, that was even better than taking one of my own.
Doe hunting success doesn’t always come easy, and sometimes you find it in ways you didn’t anticipate. But taking an old, mature doe can be just as rewarding as harvesting a trophy buck — especially when you consider how hard you worked and the lifetime of memories made in the process.