Deer season in the Northern Zone has just wrapped up. I spent the final week of the season, which for our crew is the late muzzleloading season, trying to put a little last-minute venison in the freezer while also hoping for a crack at an Adirondack buck.
When it comes to muzzleloading hunting, many hunters say nonchalantly that “I’ll just kill a doe,” making it sound simple, almost automatic. In my experience, it’s anything but that, at least where I hunt, and some of it is my own fault.
We have a self-imposed rule in the mountains where we hunt of letting antlerless deer pass; the exception being a wounded animal or if we have a young hunter amongst our ranks eager for success. Otherwise, we leave them be simply because deer populations seem to fluctuate here and in most years we just don’t see many deer, period. That’s the challenge one accepts with mountain hunting.
Ten miles to the south, and east, are two properties where things are entirely different. One 60-acre chunk sits on the edge of a valley full of agricultural lands, and there are plenty of deer around. The other is a roughly 100-acre woodlot/swamp in exurbia, which is a wooded area but there are houses around that one needs to be aware of. In general, the swampy woodlot is over-populated with deer and is one I have hunted frequently my entire life. Both are properties where we have no qualms about shooting a doe, especially a mature one. But again, there’s certainly no guarantee. And there’s always Murphy’s Law.
During the last week of the firearms season I went for a still-hunt/walk in the swampy woodlot and had a big doe step right out in front of me. “I hope you’ll do this next week,” I said as she scampered off. When the late muzzleloading season opened the following week I hunted this area as many mornings and evenings as time allowed, and actually blew a chance on a small buck one evening, which was frustrating.
Still, I began wondering where all the does were? I had seen several during the early archery and muzzleloading seasons and passed on a few smaller ones back then; something I was beginning to regret as the clock began ticking during the late season.
When the weekend came a few of us headed for the mountains. Sure enough, while on a chilly morning watch, I had two does come within feet of me, both pausing at times offering broadside shots inside of the 30 yards. This is what’s supposed to happen in the lowland areas, but things were just the opposite. In two days of hunting the mountains our small hunting group saw several does but no bucks and -– sticking to our guns (pun intended) – came home empty handed. Murphy’s Law, once again.
Sunday was a perfect hunting day. What would be a few inches of fresh snow began falling early in the morning and when our crew dispersed that afternoon I decided to take one more trip to the swampy woodlot, particularly a small ground blind just above a beaver pond that overlooks a regular travel corridor for deer.
About 30 minutes in, and just 35 minutes before sunset, I caught the unmistakable movement of a deer with the fresh snow serving as a backdrop. There were three of them making their way right towards me. They kept coming, and when the lead doe went behind a big pine tree at 20 yards, the smoke-pole came to my shoulder. Game over. She dragged easily on the fresh snow.
For the second time in three seasons I’ve taken a big doe here with the muzzleloader on the last day of the season. I have to say, after two months and two weeks of hunting – going all the way back to the late-September archery season – it was rewarding to finally have some luck, especially at the 11th hour. Murphys Law has been broken.