There was approximately one hour of the Minnesota rifle hunting season left, so I had little time to spare. I was hunting in new territory and there were no established hunting posts (stands or blinds) in the area, so I had to quickly find a promising game trail and position myself accordingly. For me, this was a move of desperation since I don’t normally post on the ground for rifle hunting, especially without a reasonable amount of time to prepare the site. I had to act and think quickly, and fortunately, as I was looking for a good location, I spotted fresh deer sign on a game trail that went into a swamp filled with mature black spruce trees. I figured whatever deer had made those tracks could possibly emerge from the swamp at dusk, so I decided this particular game trail would be the spot for the ambush. In addition, this particular game trail diverged, so I positioned myself in such a way that I could cover the spot where both trails became one. After finding a good spot, I sat down on the bog’s soft moss with my back facing the swamp and the targeted game trails to my left. There was a fallen log to my left, which I planned to use for a gun-rest as well as for concealment. My back was against a black spruce tree, my hands held a 1917 Enfield .30-06 rifle on my lap, and there was a thermos full of coffee and a Primos “Can” call to my side. Thus I sat and waited for my last chance at a whitetail for the season.
The previous days of the season were rough and disheartening. I had seen a total of three deer, and they were all seen when I was not hunting. Furthermore, the number of deer harvested around Northeastern Minnesota--where I was hunting--was below average for the year. Until the last day of the season, our five-person hunting party harvested only two deer. Roughly two hours before the season’s end, the third one was harvested--within a quarter-mile of where the other two were harvested. With that in mind, I decided that this particular place was where I would hunt for the last minutes of the season.
Which led me to my endeavor in the swamp.
The wind direction was promising at first, since it pushed my scent away from the targeted trails. After a while, though, it seemed the wind direction changed. As experienced hunters know, there is nothing more irritating than inconsistent wind. I checked the wind direction using the steam from my cup of coffee. One instant it went west, where I did not want it to go, then it immediately went back east, but then it decided to go south as well. To make matters worse, I was only thirty yards from the targeted trails which. This meant that I needed absolutely no deviance in wind direction, otherwise my scent could inadvertently waft directly to the deer.
To add to this concern, I realized that deer could possibly come from another route to my right. As a hunter, being able to target multiple directions/deer routes is usually a good thing, but being on the ground with minimal coverage meant that I could not target both of these possible routes effectively. To put it simply, a hunter must make as little movement as possible, so if I desired to target both of these possible deer routes--the original one to the left as well as the newfound one on the right--I would need to move my body into a shooting position regardless of where the deer came from. To put it another way, if I only had one direction to target, my body could be preset for that one direction without the need for extra bodily movements. So I had to make a decision about which deer route to target, and since I already planned on targeting the left route, I decided to preset my body for the left route and hope that no deer would come from the right.
After I preset myself for the left route, I thought I heard a soft footstep behind me to my right. I slowly turned my head to look, and there, twenty-five yards away, walked a mature doe. Not a second later, the doe’s fawn stepped into view behind her.
Of course the deer would come from my right when I wanted them to come from my left!
This was great! I was finally able to have my chance at harvesting a deer!
I preset myself for the left route.
I wanted to shoot the doe, so I had to move quietly if I didn’t want either of them to see me. To make it more difficult, I had to completely change my shooting position since I preset myself for the left. As experienced hunters know, the forest’s propensity for dense foliage can minimize opportunities for a shot, so I had little time before the doe was completely out of sight, which made the situation more critical since I had to move quickly--but quietly.
I had little coverage, my body was in the wrong position, I was dangerously close to the deer, I had to move quickly and quietly and not attract attention, and I only had one chance to shoot. In other words, this was going to be a tricky kill.
I was pivoting my body and rotating myself into position to shoot, and I thought I was hidden from their sight since both the doe and fawn were hidden behind foliage. The problem, though, was that the fawn could see me. While I was turning my body, I happened to make eye contact with the fawn.
I was done--finished.
I froze in place, and so did the fawn, but the doe kept walking. I was pinned. The doe only had two steps before it was in position for me to shoot, but my body, conversely, was not in position. As the point of no return arrived, and the doe was in the only opening in the foliage. If I wanted to harvest this doe, I needed to quickly whirl my rifle and torso around for the shot; there was no more time for “stealthy.”
I knew that my sudden movement would surely trigger a negative response in the fawn, who had me pinned with his/her eyes, but I needed to act quickly or else I would lose my chance altogether. If I made the sudden movement, I knew the fawn would react and spoil a steady shot, so the shot needed to be a fast one.
Would I risk a fast shot or let the opportunity to harvest this doe pass by?
I decided to risk it.
At this point, I was either Elmer Fudd or Jason Bourn; it would either be an epic shot or botched attempt.
As I whirled my gun and body, the fawn “blew” (a defense mechanism where deer snort loudly to warn other deer of danger). As the fawn blew, the doe leapt through the opening in the foliage and with her little sidekick in tow.
When my rifle was in finally in position, the deer were in the next county.
I was done--finished.
I began using the Primos “Can” call repeatedly to encourage their return. I was trying to communicate: “Hey! I’m just a deer, like you! Don’t run away! I won’t hurt you....”
The fawn continued blowing superfluously in the distance (maybe they weren’t in the next county). The pair remained just out of my sight while the fawn continued to blow. It seemed they decided to stick around and rub my blunder in my face. After a minute of the fawn’s trash-talk, they were both gone--for good.
Thus ended the 2013 MN rifle hunting season.
As a hunter, it’s easy to get discouraged after botching a hunt, especially when it’s obvious that it will be the only chance of the season. That evening, I walked out of the woods with my head and heart downtrodden due to my failure. It was hard to see something positive in it, but I could not shake the feeling that I was blessed to have had a chance. I came to the conclusion that I would rather fail my one chance than not have a chance at all.
The woods teaches a hunter many lessons, and this year I learned that a mistake is a better lesson than no lesson at all. Although I felt more like Elmer Fudd than Jason Bourne with my tactical skills, I felt blessed to have been given a chance at a deer. I appreciated my opportunity in the swamp.
I think we need to see our mistakes for what they are: a lesson to learn and an opportunity to appreciate.