November 18th 2018 started off as a cold morning, as most November mornings do in Southern Michigan. I awoke to the sound of my brother’s phone blaring a guitar solo from the 90’s band, Nickelback. This was day five of an eight-day hunt and the company we were keeping in the cabin were beginning to grow wary. As soon as I sprung out of bed, a cacophony of snores erupted from cabin. I knew I would be the only person hunting from this camp. There’s a feeling of excitement in my stomach as I pull on my cold weather gear and begin to run through all the possible hunting scenarios one could embark on with a big wood all to themselves. I had decided to hunt a pop up blind at the back of the property, something I had set up as a run and gun spot. The first night I sat this spot I missed a wounded eight point. The limping buck turned slightly as I tried to take a shot with the deer quartering to me. Shortly after the woods settled, a 200 yd walk following deer tracks through the snow revealed I had missed clean.
Even though I may have ruined that run and gun spot with a miss from a 450 Bushmaster, something about the circumstances of hunting that woods alone made me want to go back. I parked my Chevy at the gate and hopped our small wood frame angles that held up the cattle fencing, the moment my boots hit the ground I heard a disappointing sound. Crunch! There would be no sneaking into the woods this morning, every leaf was frozen. Frozen with nature’s alarm system, a thick layer of frost. I did my best to hike down our main trail, keeping my footing on dirt clumps and avoiding the crunch of leaves. Once I had arrived where the big trail stops and the smaller foot trails lead off, I took a moment to gather my thoughts, take a deep breath and lock in my concentration. The next 150 yds of terrain had to be covered with ultimate stealth. I tried to tread as lightly as possible on the small sections of clumped dirt rising above the frozen leaves. Upon my fourth or fifth step, I made a mistake. I had lost track of my footing and crunched a stick right underneath my size thirteen Redhead boots. The woods lit up with crunching leaves and white tails, I was busted.
Feeling very discouraged I immediately changed my planned hunting strategy and jumped in the next deer stand I walked under. Of course, punishing myself, I kept running the same thought through my head, “The deer were there and I just pushed them all off the property.” I felt I had just ruined my hunt. I’m hoping you know who Bob Ross is or have seen the documentary about his life “The Happy Painter.” If you haven’t, I will try to slightly illuminate who this person was. Bob Ross was a painter. Bob had a show called “The Joy of Painting” and he had an interesting insight when making mistakes while painting. If he made a mistake on a painting, he would incorporate that mistake into the painting and wouldn’t call it a mistake. Mr. Ross called them “happy little accidents”, often turning a smudge or a rogue line into a tree or a bird that would blend right into the painting. His ability to brush off mistakes and keep forging forward finishing the piece of art, was something to be admired. I’ve found this strategy to be worthy for consideration when events such as the ones described above come to light.
I had sat for about 3 hours with that nagging thought in my head, “You scared all of the deer away,” and it was starting to get old. A slight breeze had kicked up moving right to left across my face, with this breeze came a small crunching noise. “That had to be a squirrel” I thought to myself as I slowly turned my head to the right. Standing to my right, was a giant oak tree, once my sight line cleared this tree I could see for approximately fifteen degrees of angle before my view would be taken over by a large lake. With these tiny adjustments I was able to look directly down the small corridor.
There stood a nine point buck, out cruising around, looking for does, does that I had just pushed off of the property. Perhaps Bob Ross had a point with the “happy little accidents” thing after all? I waited for the buck to completely fall behind the giant ancient oak to my right, upon his disappearance I raised my rifle. My heart was beating out of my chest, just a few more steps and this season could possibly be successful. The nine point buck cleared the oak just as I had tucked the buttstock of the rifle into my shoulder. He cleared that tree facing me head on and immediately looked me right in the eye. A head on shot is never something I am completely comfortable taking and often wait for something better to materialize. However, I had moved moments before this. Had the buck seen me move? Was this buck going to bolt through the brush he just broke out of?
Time passed slowly, what amounted to possibly three seconds, felt like 15 minutes. I’m not sure that the nine point could feel the tension but in this moment it sure seemed like he was on to me. The next moment solidified the hunt. He put his head down and took a few more steps in my direction, he was completely broadside now. I rested my crosshairs right behind his left front shoulder and squeezed the trigger. POW! A jump from my rifle and a kick from the buck assured my shot and accuracy, a large blood trail confirmed the hit. A successful season was to be written in the books.