Success is a term that’s difficult to pin down. At its simplest, one could easily say that a successful trip is one that results in full coolers and freezers. It may be nice to come home with filled tags, but some of my favourite, and most successful, outings have ended with nothing more than good memories and photos to bring back home.
The last couple weeks of hunting season this year were just that. The self-imposed pressure to shoot a deer to put meat in the freezer was lifted, as my partner had shot a moose earlier in September and we had a fantastic hunting season the year prior. I wouldn’t consider myself a trophy hunter, but there were definitely a few bucks I had had my eye on for most of the year; how exciting it would have been to get a chance at one of the big boys.
There were a couple of nice snow days that I was able to get out in. Perfect conditions for anyone to track deer, but especially me as I’m far from a fast shot and like to have a bit of time to get set up on an animal. Within minutes of walking away from my truck, I glanced over to my right and not more than 20 yards away I caught my first glimpse of antlers slipping through the thick willows. I followed him, zigging and zagging through the trees. It took a while before he paused on the opposite side of a draw, allowing me to finally count the needed four points on one side.
The snow began falling faster. I watched him through my binoculars, scenarios rolling through my head. He was far bigger than the only other deer I have shot, but still not nearly the calibre of buck I knew existed in the area. Banking that the snow conditions were going to be just as good the next day, I let him walk.
Full disclosure – any other year, I would not have even questioned pulling the trigger on this deer. But the circumstances were right this season for me to hold out, so the next morning I headed out once again. Hot on the trail of fresh buck tracks, I crept through the bush, the snow quietening my footsteps. Movement 50 yards out caught my eye and excitement crept in – would this be the buck I was after? – only to find out it was the same buck from the evening prior.
I was positioned poorly for a shot, and the buck wandered away shortly after I spotted him. Having not cut any other fresh tracks, curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to follow him. It was throughout the next hour that I debated on whether I should just shoot him if I got another good chance; after all, he was a buck that I would be proud of! He finally bedded down beneath a limby spruce, hidden from sight.
What followed is arguably one of the coolest experiences I have had in my life out hunting. I watched as the buck closed his eyes and nodded off, head bobbing ever so slightly. On all fours, I crawled nearer, keeping a close watch on him. The forest was so thick where he bedded that even once he stood up and walked away, there was only a few-foot window that would allow an ethical shot. Figuring it would be good practice stalking into closer range, regardless of the outcome, I edged my way into position and waited. After about 15 minutes, he finally stood up, gave a big shake of his head… and stepped into the clear lane just as I had hoped.
I whistled softly at him, and he turned his head, making eye contact with me. No more than 10 yards away, I had never been that close to a deer, let alone a respectable buck. His ears flicked back and forth before he turned and slipped his way back into the thick brush. I couldn’t help but be in awe of how close we were; it’s an image that will be with me forever.
While I went home later that day with no cut tag (and ended up eating tag soup come season’s end), that close encounter was one that will be forever burned into my memory. It’s those kinds of experiences I will carry throughout my life – nothing to show, but a tale worth recounting, nonetheless.
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