By: Grant Meyer
I love a challenging hunt; I try to schedule a few challenging hunts for myself every year.
Sometimes I am dragging my wife to Nebraska so I can do a DIY Mule Deer hunt and sometimes I’m
roughing it with my family on public land in northern Michigan. Growing up in the 90s in southern
Michigan meant that a hunter had to get north to see deer and move away from human presence. That
little rule seems to change with every passing year and more and more hunters seem to be opting for
southern Michigan over northern. Despite this trend I still travel to northern Michigan. Every fall I have a
growing feeling in my heart that tends to pull me to wild places like the Manistee National forest in the
lower peninsula of Michigan. Life will take you to many places though and my family and I recently
bought property in southern Ohio. There is no doubt I could take larger whitetails here than the ones I
would readily see in a place like northern Michigan. Shoot, I have taken larger whitetails in Ohio but for
some reason, taking a one-hundred-and-forty-inch buck by yourself on a Tuesday just isn’t as fun as
taking a deer at camp, with friends in tow.
When I think back to my favorite hunts, only a few of them ended with a gigantic harvest. When
I really look back and analyze what made my best hunts, it was the fact that I even went hunting at all
that seems to be the common denominator. Going hunting seems like such a simple act; I think back to
the first non-typical whitetail I had ever shot. A gnarly buck that had wounded its pedicel causing very
odd antler growth.
That morning; having already tagged a buck during the early archery season; I thought I would just sit the hunt out, stay at the cabin and wait for everyone else to come back from there hunts. That is until my uncle Phil said, “you might as well go”, and that was all the push I needed. We dawned our camo and I sent my uncle back to my best spot in the hopes that he would fell a giant buck. Conversely, I went and sat on the access lane, a spot that provided minimal resources for deer this time of year. A spot I was just going to go and sit in, a spot that had the sole purpose of getting me out in the woods. A spot; that would produce a unique buck who thought all hunters had cleared the lane for the day. I sat down beneath a cedar tree and waited.
The woods were quiet and frozen. It was November 18th and the firearm whitetail season was in full effect. My phone vibrated and I looked down for a text message from my father, he had started his hunt late and was going to work down the access lane towards me, trying to push something my way. I settled in under that Cedar and dozed off a bit as the sun warmed my face. I could hear the occasional crunch of snow and ice as squirrels, birds and various other critters began their day. A unique cadence of crunching broke the rhythmic sounds of the forest and perked my ears to listen closer. That was the unmistakable sound of some being trying to sneak through the forest. A crunch, crunch and then a long period void of sound. I wrote this familiar and cyclical sound off as my father cutting down the trail, he likes to still hunt and when I say still, he doesn’t move much aside from the occasional pair of steps. The crunching seemed a way off, he must be up on the ridge working his way down to where I sat under this cedar. Little did I know how wrong I was.
Sound can be a funny thing in the woods, you can think you’re hearing a whitetail approaching only to be fooled by a flock of turkeys or a Boone and Crocket sized squirrel. What about the times we feel we absolutely heard something behind us as we exited the woods, only to swipe a flashlight and see nothing? The cedar I was sitting under was at the edge of a bottom in which a small creek exited a swamp adjacent to the above-mentioned bottom. A ridge then rises out of the swamp to meet the access trail with my cedar sitting off to the side and slightly down the ridge. This design provided great cover for any critter trying to cross over the ridge and travel up to our main food plot. The crunching continued and was growing louder and so was my level of suspicion. I could of swore the sound was right behind me; until it wasn’t. Where in the heck is this crunching cadence of steps coming from? Then I saw it, that crunching was coming from thirty-five yards to my right and a buck had just crested the ridge. “That’s a good buck”, I thought to myself as I began to run through scenarios in which I could stand, turn and take this deer. I was light on camo; wearing brown Duluth trading jeans and a Carhartt jacket with camo on the shoulders. There was nothing special about this fit, my original goal was warmth while waiting for my uncle to find success and yet now I was thrust into a chess match without one of my best advantages, camouflage. I had to make a move, so I did; slowly stand up and turning my 450 Bushmaster towards the buck. Once my Vortex Crossfire’s crosshairs had rested on the deer’s vitals, I squeezed the trigger. BOOM! A small tree exploded right in front of me and the deer fell over stone dead. I had failed to recognize a sapling separating me from the buck yet luckily the bullet stayed true and provided it’s intended solution in the deer’s high shoulder. Success had found me in the most unexpected of locations with the least amount of preparedness. The real work was about the begin.
I would have never had the opportunity at that buck if I didn’t go hunt. That’s the entire point, we must go. Sometimes we will think we don’t have enough time, or a one-hour sit won’t be enough. I can assure you that one-hour sit will sometimes be just as beneficial as sitting all day. If it doesn’t benefit your freezer space, it’ll benefit your mind. Perhaps you get to observe some deer movement and learn. Trust me, I have gone through every excuse not to go hunting but after very excuse I have felt guilty for allowing myself the out. Just go hunt. This past 2021 rifle season in Michigan was a tough one for me, tough for no other reason than self-imposed headaches. Headaches one often finds himself with when he attends deer camp with other likeminded individuals. Opening morning proved to be a head splitter. When I painfully awoke on November 15th, I knew I had to ignore the discomfort and follow my golden rule “just go hunt”. I hadn’t charged my phone; I hadn’t charged my cameras, but it was opening day. So, I commenced dressing my merino wool, grabbed my rifle and headed for the woods. The cabin was quiet when I left, and I wasn’t sure if I would be the only opening day participant today or not. Either way, I was getting my butt to the saddle and strapping in for the hunt.
The sun rose slow and the sleet that fell the night before had frozen on my climbing sticks and platform. This really illustrates why I love saddle hunting; I strapped into the tree and was connected to the oak for the entire ascent. Once I reached the top, stepped onto my platform and clipped in, I felt a wave of relaxation come over me. It was firearm opening morning in Michigan and I had once again beaten the sun to the sky. What happened next happened fast. The sun was peaking through the hardwoods as I heard the distinct crash of whitetail hooves. First, I saw the doe; her tail was raised, she was heading into the thicket below me at a dead sprint. She bounded and crashed through the woods with the speed of a deer who is being pursued. Then I saw the buck, a beautiful eight point with a wide main beam spread. His rack was easy to make out above the small shrubs and bushes as he pushed forward chasing the doe. In that split second I made the decision to take that animal. I swung my rifle around the tree and adjusted my seat in the saddle. “Please stop”, I thought, as the buck broke limbs and brush trying to get to the doe. The wind shifted and took a gust of my scent right at the evading and pursing whitetail. An action that would normally sink the entire hunt, worked out in my favor. I must have had some luck on my side because as soon as the buck winded me he stopped dead in his tracks and lifted his nose. This was my moment and I seized it; a loud crack emitted from my rifle and the buck leapt into the thicket. I could hardly believe it, not often on opening mornings would one find themselves in the stand, for less than thirty minutes, and get a crack at a good buck. All of that happened before I could even wear the frost from my platform. I produced my cell phone and tried to send a text “I got one”, but my phone had died. I was truly immersed in the hunt without distraction; or help.
This buck was heavy, and I had to seek a companion to get him to the barn. I crept up to my dad’s blind and found him sitting there. He swung the door open and said, “what’s wrong!?”. I had to laugh at this as it was still quite early in the morning and he didn’t realize I had obtained my quarry. “I shot a buck! An eight point!” I exclaimed. “oh, shoot! Let’s go get it”, he replied. We spent the rest of the day recanting the story to our friends. As a camp, we took three bucks that day and my dad had put one down the week before bringing our total to four bucks in two weeks. This was the best hunting camp we have had yet and it was all made possible because we were present. I have never seen more smiles on the faces of hunters as I saw that day. We talked and drank and ate all day, reliving the hunts and constantly walking outside to touch the antlers and marvel at the game we were lucky to take. If you’re still reading, please remember this one thing; just go and hunt. Some of the best days I have experienced on this planet are due to that simple act.