2017-11-16 / Columns

Outdoors This Week in the Eastern U.P.

By Stephen King

This week marks the beginning of firearm deer season. For most of the people in this area, it’s like a holiday. Schools let out. People look forward to this all year long. For a lot of people, it means getting up before dawn.

I have to get in one non-deer hunting story.

Quite a few years ago, I got really lucky. (Or was it skill?) Picked a good spot, had a nice blind, and just the right bait. I got my deer just after sunrise on opening day. This begat a problem: Now what do I do?

On a whim, I took a ride to one of my favorite fishing holes. I saw a kid, very early teens, carrying a couple of nice looking rainbows. Seems the kid was not old enough to hunt deer, so for something to do, he was chasing trout, and very successfully. So if you get lucky and need something to do, do not forget that there are still a lot of trout in the streams.

Now, back to the deer hunt. On the topic of tracking your deer after you shoot it and it takes off and runs away. To avoid this, shoot it in a spot that brings it down. My old Dad always told me, “Aim for the front shoulder.” His idea was that a bullet there would stop the deer dead in its tracks.

Quite a few years back, on opening afternoon, with my son sitting in the blind with me, a nice sixpoint walked out. I took aim and fired using a .12 gauge shotgun with a 3-inch magnum slug. The deer dropped right where it was standing, right on top of my bait pile. The slug went in, went through the shoulder, into the spine, and turned three of the vertebrate into mush. Then, went out the other shoulder and lay against the hide. I actually didn’t lose much meat.

A different time, a different year, I shot a deer with a 30-30. Took it through the ribs, making a good shot and getting both lungs. But, the silly thing took off. The little bitty bullet made a little bitty hole. It went about 400 yards through some of the U.P.’s best cedar swamp. As it was terrified, it did not choose the easy path. It went through and over brush piles and swales. Oh, and this was just before dark.

That second deer, let’s call it the Plan B deer, took a bit of tracking skill.

If you shoot a deer and it runs off, don’t hop out of the blind and give chase right away. Think about this. Pretend you’re a deer, just bebopping along through the swamp. In your wanderings, you come upon an apple pile. Just as you start to nibble, something hits you really hard. Then, a huge crack of thunder rocks the woods.

Being a deer, you run. But, being a deer, you don’t run that far. Deer aren’t distance runners. They are sprinters. It’s that fight or flight thing. The deer figures fighting is not an option. Doesn’t have a clue what just happened. But, it’s bad. And, time to boogey.

A deer might run 50 yards or so, then they start walking. They still want to get away from the danger, but they move at a slower pace.

When the initial adrenaline rush is over, they realize they’re hurt. The deer will look for a place to lie down. Take a load off. Curl up, rest, and think this through.

But if a hunter suddenly leaps out of his or her blind and gives chase like a wolf on the hunt, the deer will not get that instinct to hide. Now, that adrenaline really kicks in. The hit. The thunder crack. And, now, one of those crazy humans chasing him – that deer will keep running.

So, unless you see the deer drop, sit for a few. Then, start tracking. Give the deer and everything else in the woods time to calm down again.

Next, make some mental marks. Remember exactly where the deer was standing when you shot. Sometimes you forget details like exactly where the deer was when you shot at it. Go to that spot and before going any farther, look around the spot really well. Take your time. Look for hair or blood. If you either on the ground where you shot at it, it means you hit it. If there is snow, this is much easier.

Find the tracks. Follow one set of tracks. Fix the spot. Move to the next set. If you don’t see the next set right away, go back to the last set. Estimate about the maximum distance a deer can jump. Look at the ground very closely. A running deer makes some pretty good leaps, and they also leave some pretty good divots. A walking deer does not leave such deep tracks, but the tracks are closer together.

When it first takes off, the deer will be making some serious leaps, going as fast as those four little hooves will carry it. But, about 50 yards out, or so, if you did not take the attacking-wolf attitude, it will slow down.

Now, it will be walking. Again, look for blood. You should be walking, too. Slowly. This is not a race. Time is your friend. The more slowly you go, the better chance you have of finding that deer.

And, like my Dad said, “Always keep your eyes peeled when you’re tracking.” Chances are, the deer has lay down, but if it is alive, it will get up and run again.

I remember many years ago, on a track, when the plan all came together. Found the deer, curled up in a brush pile. I walked up really slowly, got within about 10 feet, and finished the job.

Back to that Plan B deer I shot that ran into the swamp. It was just before dark. I had to drag it back through all of that nonsense. Brush piles, swales, and mud, in the dark. Not fun.

So, try to go with Plan A: Shoot the deer so it goes down right away. No tracking involved. The shoulder works well, and there is also the head shot. If you are using a larger caliber of gun, however, shooting it in the head may not be what you want to do. Think of the taxidermist.

It’s deer season. Get out there and have fun.

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