Hope springs eternal as deer season fades away
Daylight was fading quickly. It was 5:23 p.m. on Jan. 1, 2019, so I only had about 15 minutes left in the 2018 deer-hunting season.
I’d taken my bow afield the day before in one last-ditch effort to get a crack at a mature buck, but it didn’t happen. Like most of the recent days, I didn’t even see a deer while on stand. On this day, with a late antlerless season open on private land in the deer management unit in which I was hunting, I’d brought my muzzleloader afield.
Deer activity slows dramatically during daylight hours after the second week of firearms season and that observation held true right through muzzleloader season and throughout the late archery hunt. After being hunted for six solid weeks in October and early November, deer begin to react to the pressure, and following several days of gun season, they get the message loud and clear. Nowhere is that pressure higher than in southern Lower Michigan, where I now do the brunt of my deer hunting.
Oh, the deer are still around – although you probably wouldn’t know it by the reports from local hunters. They’re hesitant to come out to play in the daylight. Several trail cameras I and my hunting partners tend proved that point. Since the beginning of December, there were lots of daylight pictures of turkeys, squirrels and birds, but nearly all of the whitetail pictures were strictly after dark.
Perched in a pine tree on the edge of a wood lot and overlooking a large fallow field, I was licking my wounds and counting my blessings all at the same time.
I had a great fall with a lot of action. Early on, I saw deer nearly every day I hunted and was able to tag a yearling doe early in October – part of which has already been consumed.
I then passed on literally dozens of shots at does and young bucks, waiting for a mature buck to wander within shooting range. We try to follow voluntary antler point restrictions on the farm and have realized great results. We also try not to shoot button bucks, since those will be the mature whitetails we’ll be looking for in two or three years. But, as usual, things slowed to a snail’s pace later in the year and the only deer I’d seen in the past two weeks were three young button bucks, including one just 20 minutes earlier.
Moments before the button buck circled around behind me on my final hunt of the season, I’d watched a nice-sized flock of wild turkeys cross the field and head to their winter roost in a nearby stand of pines.
Ah, but as Alexander Pope wrote in An Essay on Man, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” That button buck will grow into a mature buck in a couple short years and those turkeys will likely be around in April when spring turkey season arrives. The future looks bright, I rationalized, rather than dwell on the fact I that I’d likely have to eat a doe tag rather than fill the freezer with fresh venison.
Then my luck changed.
A relatively small antlerless deer appeared about 60 yards in front of me. I quickly glassed it with my binocular to look for nubs on its head, which would indicate another button buck. Unfortunately, in the fading light, it was difficult to see if there was anything on its head, so I opted to pass. Then another antlerless deer followed the first, then two more, and all four stopped right in front of me to survey the field ahead of them.
Now that I could see them all I realized there was a fawn, two yearlings and a mature doe in the group.
I cautiously raised my gun, leveled my sights on the largest one and squeezed the trigger. It was now 5:31 p.m. I’d milked the season for all it was worth.