September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Nine-point Crawford County buck made opening day perfect
That's what I told myself opening day of last fall's Wisconsin gun deer season as I peered through the scope of my rifle.
I'd never fired that weapon at a deer until that moment. The year before, I missed a shot at a running coyote. But Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, marked the first time I'd gotten to try my Finnish-made rifle, a sleek, stainless steel Tikka, chambered in .270 Winchester, on a whitetail.
It had already been an interesting morning on the farm of my good friend, Bill. Out of bed at 4:30 a.m., I still managed to get to the woods later than I wanted. Clambering out of my truck, in the darkness I managed to bump the horn with my right elbow. As the honk reverberated across the ridge, down to the Mississippi River and over to Iowa and Minnesota, I grimaced at the thought that I'd alerted every deer in the tri-state area.
Rifle, ammunition and gear in tow, I made the short hike down a logging road and to my stand in a medium-sized hickory tree. Once up and settled, I tried to become calm.
It was difficult. For one thing, I had great expectations about the spot and the day. A month earlier, another friend, Al, helped me move the ladder stand: one tree to the west and a 180-degree turn so it now faced north - down the hill and into the woods.
For three years, the stand faced south, overlooking the logging road. Finally, after seeing few deer, I guessed I should try watching the opposite direction.
An abundance of deer sign - the most I'd ever seen on Bill's farm - also prompted the move. In October, while squirrel hunting, I noticed all the rubs and scrapes down the hill and along the logging road. One rub and scrape lay a mere 25 yards west of my stand's new location.
I also noticed a well-worn trail across the wooded hillside. In some places the trail was black and muddy from deer traffic.
The predawn chilled me. But, the sight of a deer strolling up from the valley shortly after 7 a.m. made me forget about the cold.
It headed east, into the dance of sunlight and shadows created by the soon-to-rise sun. I made out the shape of another deer and noticed antlers on the first one. Both animals vanished silently into the morning.
Despite not getting a shot, I was pleased. My scouting and instincts had already paid off.
By 8:30, the combination of cool air and a light breeze had me chilled. I'd dressed fine for 50 degrees, but not for 30.
It was down the ladder for a warming cup of coffee. Then I got the itch to slowly walk the logging road along the narrow hogback. Maybe I would see something. For sure, I would drink in a majestic view of the mighty Mississippi, hundreds of feet below.
At 10:30, it was time to hustle back to my stand. I knew from experience that deer often move between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. They're hungry; they're thirsty; or hunters heading in for lunch have kicked them up.
I made it back into position at 11:05. Still optimistic, I sat very still and gazed down the hill.
It was 11:23 when I saw movement down and to my right. Something walking - up the hill - toward me.
Brown legs became visible, then the whole body of the deer. I could tell right away it was a buck - and a decent one, at that - although I never consciously looked at its antlers.
It would not have been a particularly easy shot, off to my right. But as luck had it, the deer turned and headed west, across the hill and below me, instead of up. Then, it stopped, possibly at a scrape or rub.
I used the opportunity to shimmy myself into what I hoped would be a good shooting position, praying the stand would neither creak nor groan.
Next, it was time to scrunch down and find the deer through the scope. Drat! I hadn't thought of the sun behind me creating glare on the glass. After the third try, I managed to find an angle that let me see.
I found the deer, cranked the scope all the way up to full power and laid the crosshairs just behind the buck's left front shoulder. Then, I gently squeezed the trigger as I told myself, "It isn't going to get any better than this."
The buck turned out to be a fat nine-pointer, the best deer I've ever met. I'm counting down the time to when I might encounter some of his relatives in the Crawford County woods. Only 10 more months until another November and another opening day.
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