Three Shot Buck
To tell the truth, I am not that much of a hunter. My real passion is stalking trout in the upper reaches of small creeks and deep pools with my fly rod. However, when the season opens in the upstate of South Carolina, I can't help but get that pull in the pit of my stomach to grab a gun and go hunt some larger game.
So on a partly cloudy day a few years ago, about mid way through the season, I grabbed my breach loading, single shot 12 gauge from the closet, kissed my wife goodby, and piled into the jeep for the forty five minute drive to my secluded hunting grounds. I wasn't really expecting to get anything that afternoon but I was looking forward to the peace and solitude of sitting high up in a tree and watch the beauty of nature around me as the afternoon faded into night.
When I got to the grounds I slung my gun over my shoulder, shoved the three shells into my pocket, and began the half mile walk down hill to my stand on the edge of a small marsh. I would soon loath this walk but for the time being I was enjoying the sounds and smells that can only come with the serenity of a southern hardwood forest. In a few minutes I was nestled atop the small platform of my tree stand, my outdated shotgun on my lap, and settled in for the quiet alertness of a hunter and enjoying the antics of the squirrels that continuously add noise to the forest.
Some of you might be wondering why I choose to hunt with a single shot shotgun when such advances have been made in weaponry giving the hunter every opportunity to make his kill. All I can tell you is that for my, much as it is in my fly fishing, hunting is about the experience. Its about connecting with the past and continuing the traditions of countless years of human existence. It is also about making due with what you got and this old and antiquated gun was all I had. I also figured that if I wasn't good enough to get the deer in one shot then I wasn't worthy of taking it. I would later adjust this line of thinking but that comes later.
My stand sat on a heavily wooded hill that gently sloped down into a basin that was frequented by bedding whitetails. I had positioned the simple two by four constructed stand so I could get an optimal shot on a well used game trail that emerged from the swamp and passed about thirty yards in front of me. Over the years I had seen numerous bucks use this trail and decided that with the afternoon closing beyond my hill, this spot might just yield a buck emerging from an days rest in the marsh. Loading my single shot shotgun with a Remington deer slug, trained my eyes down the hill and waited.
An hour before sunset I began to get excited. The last few hours had been building a belly full of anticipation. The wind was beginning to come up the hill from the marsh, the sun was setting and the temperature was just right. I began to get a sense that I would soon see a deer emerge in front of me and perfectly set up for a clean kill. I readied my self for a that moment that I could draw up my gun and put a bead on the target.
Half a minute later I heard a heart stopping snap of a twig and rustle of leaves just over my left shoulder. Slowly I turned my head and saw through the oaks a beautiful looking buck coming down the hill and munching on acorns. I began to peer through the trees at the deer and could clearly see six evenly spaced points on a rack that I had never seen in these woods before. He was only about sixty yards away but with the trees so tight and the branches obstructing any clear shot, he might as well have been a thousand yards off. My only hope with the slug I had already chambered was that this buck make his way down the trail into a clear field of fire. Luckily that is just what he did and in a few moments he came into view forty five yards out in front of me presenting a perfect side profile.
With as much stealth ass I could muster, I raised my gun to my shoulder, quietly released the safety and took three long breaths. Drawing the thin metal bead on the sweet spot of the buck I recited the cliché phrase 'aim small, miss small' over and over in my head. This was going to be my one buck of the year and I was going to make it count. Slowly I began to put pressure on the trigger.
BANG! Though the ringing in my ears and brief moment of recoil of the gun, I saw a branch fall in my line of fire and beyond was the deer standing like a statue; head up, ears attentive to the slightest noise, and perfectly still staring directly at me.
I could not believe it. There was no way I missed that buck. I had the perfect shot and although I am prone to boost once in a while, I am in no way a bad shot with my weapon. My only guess at that moment was that an unseen branch had deflected the slug. Regardless, I had missed and now I had to think about what I could do next. For the moment I had froze with the buck. He and I in a standoff, neither willing to flinch, neither willing to give ourselves away to the other. I held my breath hoping he couldn't discern me from the surrounding forest.
A minute or so later he cautiously resumed his munching on acorns and trek to the marsh. As quietly as I could I muffled the opening of the breach of my shotgun with my jacket, pulled out the smoking shell and replaced it with one more. Again muffling the sound with my jacket and forearm I closed the breach and raised the gun to my shoulder.
The whole process of reloading had taken my about five minutes and in that time the deer had slowly moved off a bit more down the hill to a distance every inch of sixty yards. Careful to find a hole though the branches that I could shoot through, I began the process of drawing a bead and reciting that over used phrase once again; Aim small, miss small.
Again I sat in complete disbelief with the loud ringing in my ears and the smell of gunpowder drifting up through the trees. The deer, this beautiful buck, stood like a statue carved out of marble staring directly at me. A few moments later he turned and bounded into the swamp and beyond my sight.
I was completely disheartened. How could I have missed such a clean shot not once but twice and why on earth did this buck just stand there, daring me to reload. It was if he knew I had only one shot and I had missed it.
Without any more need to keep quiet, I cracked the breach, pulled the spent shell and reloaded with my last round. I wasn't sure I would get another opportunity but I wanted to wait and see what happened.
A half hour later and with the sun casting long shadows through the forest I began to hear movement in the swamp off to my right. Searching through the brush I could just barely make out the form of deer, a buck. Not only a buck but my buck. This beast that had braved two slugs from my antique gun and had stood daring me to take him, this deer that had stared me down at each miss was coming back up the hill in a flanking maneuver to taunt me again.
Slowly I began maneuvering my body into a good firing position, anticipating where the buck might fully emerge behind me. Eventually I settled in, my legs straddling the trunk of the large oak and my frame poised like a sniper laying in wait for the prey to approach.
Moments later the buck emerged from the trees forty yards and a hundred and eighty degrees from where I had taken my first shot at him. Slowly I leaned out from behind the oak, settled my left arm on the rough bark of the tree and took aim. No mantra this time, no long breaths, just a simple slow movement till the sights rested on the buck's sweet spot. Then I pulled on the trigger.
The mortally wounded deer stumbled about another seventy five yards and collapsed atop of the hill. It was by far one of the the most memorable hunting experiences I have ever had and as I began the long hike back to the jeep, I couldn't help but smile. I nearly blacked out three time on that half mike hike dragging that buck but that smile never left my face.
In the end the buck wasn't the biggest, although for a South Carolina forest deer it was better than average, nor did it have the biggest rack but for me it isn't about that. It is and will always be about the journey and the experience of going out there and doing it. Its about knowing that you can provide for your family. Its about connecting with the past and probably more than anything it is about connecting to world we all live in.
–This is my submission for the Sportsman Channel Writing Contest for Hunters hosted by the Outdoor Blogger Network.–