By Stephen Reed
This year’s hunting season came with mixed emotions. I wasn’t sure how to start without my brother. I was really excited about the new property and the chance to hunt with my son and nephew. It’s been trying at times and rewarding at others, but a good year so far.
I leased eighty acres in the middle of September. I only had the weekends to get everything ready for the 2011/2012 hunting season. I brought my camper up, cut firewood, and put up a small shed. I scouted a little bit at the end of September and the first two weeks of October. The youth rifle season began November 5-6 and November 12, 2011 was opening weekend.
The boys really wanted to bow hunt. I tried to fit it in as I worked preparing stand and ground blind sites. October 30 2011, I was rewarded with my best bow kill. He was a nice wide eight point making a fine addition to the other mounts in my home.
Figure 1 “Photo” Stephen Reed and his 30 October 2011 Missouri eight point archery buck.
The next weekend youth rifle season began. My son Tyler was ready to go after getting his first buck from the taxidermist for Christmas last year. I set up a ground blind in an area where there were two nice scrapes I’d seen for a few weeks. I was very happy that my nephew Ryan could come with us and join in the fun. We didn’t see much that weekend, but Tyler did get to take a small doe. He was very proud to provide meat for the table, and fill his tag in the final hours of daylight on the last day of the youth rifle season.
Rifle season opened the morning of Saturday November 12th and we were ready. My nephew Ryan was with me trying to get his first deer. The alarm went off at 4:00 AM. We were both up, excited as to what the day would bring. By 5:15, we were on our way to the woods, as shooting hours started at 6:08. We had our walkie-talkies and Ryan told me all was well. He was in his stand and ready to hunt by 5:30. We had set him up in a buddy stand over in a nice area not far from a choke point a few weeks ago. We were sure if any area was going to produce a deer this year, it would be that one.
I, on the other hand, had no idea where I was going to hunt. I picked an area over on the other side of the choke point, several hundred yards away. I was in the dark looking for a tree that was suitable for my climbing stand. Finding one, I proceeded to climb up and get settled in. About half way up, the foot holder on my summit climbing stand broke. This is the same climbing stand that threw me to the ground just two weeks before. Even though I was only about ten feet up, I decided to just hunt from there. I settled in and looked at my watch, it was 5:35 am. It was a full moon and 33 degrees. I hunkered down and waited for the sun to light the sky and wake the world on opening day of the 2011 rifle season.
It wasn’t long before the sounds of gun fire echoed throughout the mountain. As the sun started to light my surroundings, I realized I was almost in the same spot where I shot my buck during bow season. I was in a tree in the middle of a trail where the deer would run right under my stand. It was a crisp clear morning and bucks were in full rut and chasing does. At least that’s what I heard at the local restaurant when we got to town Thursday night. But, in the two days we had hunted, we hadn’t seen any sign of that being the case.
As the morning past, I sat hoping to hear a shot from where Ryan was. I looked at my watch it was 7:30. I had blown a few grunts on my grunt call every 30-45 minutes. As I reached for my grunt call, I heard a series of grunts from over the ridge to my left. I slowly turned to see a group of deer running over the ridge, coming right at me. I watched as two large does and a small one ran down the hill. An old buck zigzagged back and forth behind them grunting about every third or fourth step. It was one of the coolest things I had ever witnessed from a tree stand!
I could tell he was an old deer by the pot belly and the sway in his back. But he was chasing those does like there was no tomorrow. I knew there were bigger deer on this lease but he was well past his prime and a good choice for a management buck. It didn’t take long to decide to take him. I watched as the does ran right under my stand. I could have almost hit them with my gun had I tried they were so close. He ran under my stand chasing them, I raised my rifle and steadied for the shot. He was about ten yards away when I squeezed the trigger. It was a good shot and a clean kill; he didn’t even run forty yards.
I wanted Ryan to get a full hunt in. I told him to stay in the stand and hunt until he was ready to come out. I settled into my stand. It seemed like an eternity before my radio crackled and I heard the words, “I’m coming down now; I’ll be over there in a few minutes.” I started the climb down with only one stirrup on my climber and finally made it safely to the ground.
We propped our guns against the tree as I told Ryan where I shot the deer. I asked him to see if he could find the blood and track him for me. I saw the deer go down but wanted him to learn how to blood trail an animal. He was excited to give it a try. He and Tyler had some practice with Tyler’s little doe the weekend before, but I believe in the old saying “practice makes perfect.” It wasn’t long before we were looking at my deer lying under a small pine tree. He was even more beautiful up close.
Figure 2 “Photo” Stephen Reed’s opening day rifle buck when they found it.
He was beat up pretty good. Both sides of his main beams were broken off just past the G3. His left G2 was broken at the tip. Both brow tines and his right G2 were the only points intact. His nose was scared from his many battles. The front of both bases was polished and shining white with little bits of tree bark stuck in them. This old bruiser was fighting and broke off quite a bit of his rack. He was still out there chasing three does at one time. All in all a good management buck.
We spent the rest of the morning taking pictures and getting him ready for the processor. We made the trip off the mountain and dropped him off at the processing plant. We stopped for some lunch and picked up gas for the generator.
We were on the mountain in time for Ryan to get ready for his evening hunt. As he headed down the trail, he called in a radio check on the walkie-talkie. He disappeared around the bend toward his stand. I sat down in front of my computer to write this article. I had to pause several times to answer his questions over the radio. I said a little prayer hoping he’d finally get his first deer.
The next morning started out much like the rest of the weekend. There was a wind advisory with gusts up to 50 miles an hour. I was a little apprehensive to put Ryan in the stand, but he was very eager to take his first deer. We waited for daylight to check and see how windy it was. We pulled my climbing stand from the tree where I left it the night before.
Around 9:30 I decided it was safe for Ryan to hunt the rest of the morning. And with it being the rut there was still plenty of deer activity. He was rewarded with an opportunity to take a large doe. She was the largest in a group of four does. But, there was a mishap with some faulty ammunition, and a couple of misfires. He called me on the radio and asked what he should do. I put on my orange and headed to the stand. I brought him a couple more hand-picked shells that would hopefully fire, if the opportunity presented itself again. After a couple words of encouragement, I headed back to the camper.
Unfortunately we had to be heading home soon. Around noon I called him on the radio and told him it was time to come back to camp. He was still really excited about seeing the does and asked to hunt for a little while longer. I agreed and around 12:30 he rounded the bend coming back towards camp. He hadn’t seen any more deer, but was still excited about how close the does had come to his stand. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.
We packed up the camp and headed down the mountain into town. We went to the processor to pick up the meat from my deer. On the way, I explained to him that’s why it’s called hunting and not killing. Sometimes things happen that are out of your control and you don’t always get to harvest a deer. We still had the following weekend. Although he was a little disappointed, he was very excited about opening weekend. He had never been that close to deer before and was thrilled with the encounter. He really enjoyed helping me field dress my deer.
All in all, opening weekend for the 2011 rifle season was a success. I know my brother is looking down with pride, at his son following in his footsteps. I am proud of him too. He’s carrying on the family tradition of hunting opening weekend of the rifle season. Just like we always did. I’m sure it won’t be long until Ryan gets his first deer.
Figure 3 “Photo” Stephen Reed with his opening day Missouri rifle buck.