“Just be cool,” I kept telling myself.
I had an East River buck tag and three days to fill it, so there was no need to rush things. The plan was to take my time, make smart decisions and bring home a worthy buck.
All I needed was one deer willing to cooperate.
I spent the pre-dawn hours of opening morning sitting in a pop-up blind hoping some unsuspecting buck would bed down in the cornfield I was watching. By 9:00 am, I hadn’t seen any activity other than a few young does enjoying a nice breakfast of winter wheat. I decided to pack up my gear and see how my friend, Mark, who set up about half a mile away, was doing.
Mark had a doe tag, which meant he was guaranteed to see a buck walk right by his stand. That’s how it goes. The guy with a buck license will see only does, and the guy with a doe license will have to shoo away bucks like they were pesky flies.
Sure enough, when I reached Mark, he pointed to the CRP field he had been overlooking all morning and said, “There’s a big buck in there.”
As soon as we stepped into the field, the buck jumped up and crashed through the shoulder-high grass. I raised my rifle and put the crosshairs of my scope right behind his shoulder blade. When the deer stopped momentarily to look back, I could have pulled the trigger, but didn’t. I paused for a second, wondering if this buck was large enough to take so soon on opening morning.
“Be cool,” I whispered.
The buck made the decision for me. He tucked his antlers and ran to the far side of the field where I couldn’t reach him, even with my best shot. It would be the last deer I saw until later that afternoon.
Once the commotion of opening morning quieted down, I convinced Mark and another one of my hunting buddies, Tom, to go for a little walk. I had my eye on an out-of-the-way slough that was tucked between a strip of corn and a shelterbelt of mature trees. This is where I would hide if I had 1,400 hunters looking for me.
Tom posted at the far end of the slough, while Mark and I walked through the shelterbelt. I had to decide whether to take the inside path through the treeline or walk on the outside edge. I chose the inside path, thinking it would give me a better chance at pushing a deer out to Tom.
Just before Mark and I reached the end of the treeline, two young bucks got up 20 yards to my left. I could see them just beyond the row of trees, but couldn’t raise my rifle through the thick tangle of plum branches and cedar boughs. By the time I had a clear shot, the deer were sprinting across the open field at full speed.
“Just be cool,” I tried to reassure myself. “You’ll get another chance.”
Sunday was spent glassing fields, pounding through CRP and sitting in blinds. Watching. Walking. Waiting. Nothing was moving. It was clear that every deer in the county was on high alert.
By Sunday evening, the images of those missed opportunities kept running through my mind. What if I would’ve pulled the trigger sooner? What if I walked on the outside of the treeline?
I began to think I should do the exact opposite of whatever I decided—which, by definition meant I should do the opposite of that, too.
We were planning to leave on Monday afternoon, which gave us one last morning to take a deer.
Based on the (lack of) activity we saw over the last two days, Tom and I thought a nearby cornfield would give us the best chance at success. The plan was pretty simple—I would cover the south end of the field and Tom would cover the north. If I didn’t see anything by 8:30 am, I was supposed to pick him up.
The morning came and went without any sign of deer. I became impatient and decided to drive to the north end of the cornfield and pick up Tom, even though my watch said it was only 7:30.
When I pulled up to Tom, I noticed he was watching something move in the distance. And then I saw it. A buck was crossing an open field and making his way to the corn. My truck must have startled the approaching deer, because he quickly turned around and ran in the opposite direction. If I hadn’t pulled up just then, the buck would’ve probably walked right into Tom.
“So much for 8:30,” Tom said with just a hint of irritation.
It was another bad decision on my part and another missed opportunity at a perfectly good buck.
I couldn’t help but mutter to myself, “Yeah…and so much for being cool.”