Javier (yes, it's an alias), Marc, and I were the deer hunting contingent from the Appleton area this year. Things actually started a couple of weekends ago, though, with Tom, Jason, Marc and I heading over to Uncle Dean and Aunt Dar's place to check out the situation with regard to deer stands and get the lay of the land. We had a great time with them, tromping around the family farm, hearing stories, playing cards, and just generally having a nice time. Don't you just love that when different sets of people that you love get to meet each other?
So this Friday afternoon, Marc, Javier and I headed west. We got there pretty much at the same time my cousin (Dean & Dar's son) Keith did. I hadn't seen him for a couple years, so it was great to hang around, play cards, catch up, and look over a map of the land to figure out the trail network. Unfortunately Dar just found out that her brother Rich has been hospitalized with a serious case of walking pneumonia... so that meant things were a little more serious than they might have been. (He was doing ok - at least not worse - when she visited him on Saturday, so we're all hoping he pulls through.)
Saturday morning light quickly found us in our tree stands and ready to go. I was in the same stand as last year, and I just love it. It's placed right at the junction between a lake and a swamp, so there was all sorts of activity when I was there. Maybe 20 minutes after I was in and settled, a black bear came from the facing hill and between the bodies of water, crossing in front of me and heading back up the Big Hill. Not much later, an otter came up from the swamp, meandered to the lake, and then also pattered its way in front of me. Marc even got to see it, as he was using the next stand up that my cousin Scott used last year! Maybe half an hour later, a big buck came down the opposite hill and I took a shot, missed, and then got him with the second shot. He's the biggest buck I've ever gotten! Since this was Marc's first year hunting, he came over to help me field dress it so he could get an idea of how that works (unfortunately, when you do it as seldom as I do, it just isn't as neat or straightforward as it is in the hunting manuals!). I helped Marc drag it closer to the trail, and we returned to our stands.
Maybe an hour later, a smaller buck came down from the Big Hill, passed Marc (but not close enough for a good shot), and came in front of me. It was moving at a pretty strong pace, and in retrospect I should have waited for a better shot myself. I ended up wounding it - but not badly enough to slow it down. So for the next three or four hours I tracked that deer. At one point, I thought it was done as the trail crossed another one where a deer had been taken and field dressed. I looked around a bit, though, and figured out that my deer had merely crossed the path of the other one, and hadn't been taken himself. I suppose that makes sense in retrospect, but trying to figure that out from the trail was pretty non-straightforward! Maybe half way through Uncle Dean came after me as we weren't sure which direction it was heading and he was worried about me ending up wandering forever in the hinterlands of northern Wisconsin. That deer had a sense of humor though - it ended up, after much wandering, looping back around the end of that swamp, coming back along the Big Hill, and essentially crossing it's own trail from where I had originally first seen it! Eventually the trail played out, and Uncle Dean was pretty sure it wasn't hurt that badly: seriously wounded deer generally only go down hill, and this one had no problem going up and down and all around - and even buddied up with a couple of does along the way! It makes me sick to my stomach to think of a wounded deer suffering, so I sincerely hope that deer is fine, or else is taken by another hunter soon.
As we were following the trail back along the Big Hill, Marc saw us and came and joined in on the end of our tracking adventure. We headed back to Dean's cabin to warm up, chill out, and regroup before the last push for the evening. Javier joined us for a bit, and then the three of us headed back to our stands. Maybe an hour before sundown I got cold, and decided to do a loop to see if I could kick anything up for Marc or Javier (who was now in my stand). And sure enough, I think that's what happened! A big buck - bigger than the one I had gotten earlier! - surprised Marc as he was starting up a hand warmer. He took a quick shot and missed, but his shot alerted Javier. Javier saw it running into view, and then stop - behind a group of trees. He waited and it stepped forward...and he dropped it.
He field dressed it as the sun was setting, and Dean brought out his ATV so he could drag both of our deer out for us. And so ended a big but exhausting opening day. We headed in to warm up, went out to eat, played more cards, and hit the sack!
Things were unfortunately much quieter this morning. We had hoped to get a deer for Marc, and another deer for Amy. But we only saw two deer between the three of us, in spite of standing quietly for roughly five and a half hours. Have I mentioned before that hunting really isn't a sure thing? If nothing else, it sure made us grateful for all the fun we'd had and deer we'd seen yesterday. Thankfully, Keith had helped bring in a doe that had been wounded yesterday, and since he didn't need the meat, they gave that one to Marc. So we'll all have meat in our freezers this year!
(picture of me, Keith, Aunt Dar and Uncle Dean - I think we were all pretty zoned out!)
We took off around noon, hung around the house for the first half of the Packer-Viking game, and now are on the road back to Appleton. So, who's coming over for venison?