One of the drivers was in sight, walking on a hillside in the aspen slashings, on the other side of a narrow finger of a blueberry bog. No deer had popped out to make their escape across the wide open wetland stretching to the south and west of my stand. The warm sunny Thanksgiving Day made for easy waiting while we made a push of the tangle of cut-over aspens which bordered the eastern edge of this particular bog.
Suddenly, not forty yards in front of me, like some silent apparition, rose a deer. It was a buck, and he sported a nice set of antlers, not trophy class by any means, but shootable in my book. The deer, intent on watching the walker in the aspen, knew nothing of my presence. As quickly as he rose, back down he lay with only his head and antlers showing above the three foot tall brambles of blueberry shrub.
As my brother-in- law closed the gap, unaware of the deer in front of me, the buck, obviously getting nervous, made his dash for freedom. He was easy to pick up in my scope. I swung with his bounding escape attempt and the cross hairs being where they needed to be, I touched off a shot. The deer stumbled, sped out of the bog and up a short hill, dropping at the feet of my youngest son who was just then cresting the hill.
The eternal question that deer hunters ask after Opening Day concerns the whereabouts of those bucks carrying wall-hanging racks as well as their smaller kin. We see them in summer and early autumn. Some of us are fortunate enough to watch the progress of antler growth from early nubbins in May through the soft velvet of summer and on into the hardened adornment of September. We anticipate Opening Day, whether it be for bow or gun, under the impression that we’ve found the secret, the holy grail of monster buck territory and we plot the strategy which will put those massive beams on our wall.
Alas! Opening Day arrives and for one reason or another the wall hanger never appears. It seems as if they have been swallowed by the very bowels of the earth. What happened?
It is stock deer hunting lore that these trophies slink into the thickest, densest cover areas at the first sign of pre-dawn hunter activity. These impenetrable whitetail havens are described variously as, “Thick cedar swamps crisscrossed with years of dead falls”, or “a mass of brambles and brush that only a Sherman tank could penetrate.” It is even suggested that these areas still hold the ghosts of unknowing hunters who attempted to ply their secret recesses and got lost in the attempt, never to return.
Then there are the vast stretches of clear-cut aspen patches, whose new growth presents a veritable walled citadel, keeping hunters out. There are of course huge conifer plantations, where a green curtain drops and prevents prying eyes and stout legs from delving their secret cache of big bucks. It is from within these vegetative mazes that deer of all sorts, bucks included, especially the big boys, smile and laugh at our futile attempts to get a good look at them.
Standard Deer Lore about Big Bucks and another Side to the Story
I hunt a local swamp that consists mainly of larch, and black spruce. Bowhunting in there is out of the question because of the near impossibility of finding an arrow hit deer that may go fifty or more yards. In most of this cover a deer could be lying dead within six feet and the hunter still would not see it. Indeed, rifle shot bucks that run mere yards take careful and thoughtful tracking in order to be found.
To get to my stand I choose to canoe across the bay of a bordering lake rather than trudge through the mass of vegetation. Tracking a deer in there without a compass is not wise, unless the ground is snow covered. That is, when you can find the ground.
Indeed I’ve taken many bucks from this swamp during rifle season and had shots at two that carried very nice racks. One I missed due to my own carelessness and the other I passed up because I had already harvested a buck sporting, larger antlers. As for seeing a steady stream of big bucks in that swamp, I can’t say that I have. They are there, but are virtually unhuntable.
Where then can a hunter, who hopes to tag a trophy whitetail, go in hopes of success? Finding the deer is one thing; getting a decent shot is quite another.
Let me tell you a bit of a secret. In the northern tier of states there are such locales. The strategy calls for still hunting, but not at a glacial pace as is usually described in deer hunting literature. “If ya cover 100 yards in an hour yur movin’ too fast, son. Yur huntin’ whitetails, not racin’ ‘em.” Such is the accepted wisdom and for the most part it is correct.
Getting Bogged Down
I hunt my favorite still hunting spot not more than three times a season and never with snow on the ground. For some reason snow cover keeps the deer out of this particular bailiwick. I am able to walk/stalk upright and have a clear field of vision for hundreds of yards if I so choose. In this most productive and huntable terrain I am never taunted and torn by briars, thorns, masses of intertangled branches, or other such nuisances. As a matter of fact I find a pair of binoculars and a shooting rest to be of value.
Where is this unlikely deer heaven you ask? What I describe is hunting in naturally occurring blueberry/huckleberry bogs. It is hard to beat hunting whitetail bucks in a bog. These glacially created depression are found in many areas within the northern tier of states. Deer favor them because they offer security. Under the right conditions, you can’t beat hunting whitetail bucks in a bog.
How can a deer hide and yet feel comfortable in an area where the only vegetation, other than surrounding tag alders and low willow along the edge giving way to conifers and hardwoods of the bordering uplands, are blueberry and huckleberry bushes growing on and between innumerable mounds of sphagnum moss? The fact is deer do find security in such places. They lie in the low areas between the mounds and blueberries with the wind at their back and use their eyes and ears to locate danger from the downwind side.
My sons and I have hunted a nearby bog for several years, have taken bucks of every size and have seen even larger ones than those we have harvested. Without exception, the deer, does and fawns included, bed in the bog within twenty yards of the edge. They face out towards the center and use the wind to cover their back. They depend more on their sense of smell than they do sight. Odor differentiation always takes priority in the world of the whitetail.
I first discovered this honey-hole while grouse hunting along the edge of the bog about fifteen years ago. In several areas I noticed buck rubbed aspen saplings. Looking out over the low growing vegetation of the bog I dismissed it as an area that would hold deer. A well used runway crossed the low lying land from east to west about a third of the way across, but this only indicated a route from one piece of cover to another, or so I thought..
Every year I hunted along the bog and noticed buck rubs. It wasn’t until the evidence became overwhelming in the form of several areas of freshly rubbed trees right next to the bog that the idea struck me. The area needed to be hunted. Even then the full importance of the bog escaped me. My idea was to conduct a deer drive in the cut-over aspen on the east side of the blueberry bog as a possible escape route.
Our bog is oval shaped with a width of about 200 yards and a length of nearly 1/4 mile. The south and north end both have an area of slightly higher land upon which pines and other trees grow. We call them “the islands”. Each is less than an acre in size, and sit out in the bog. It was during the summer that I cut a lane which would afford me quiet access to the eastern side of the north island where I planned to put a stander to cover the bog during a drive of the cut-over aspen. In those days my boys and I did a bit of deer driving, especially on Thanksgiving when brother-in-law, Roy, would bring his family up for a visit. Neither he nor his son hunted, but they enjoyed walking the woods in a deer drive.
On that day of discovery we had hunted in the morning and one son and I scored on the first drive. After taking the deer to the house and hanging them in the garage, we looked for new worlds to conquer. We lay plans to drive the aspen cut on the east side of the bog out back. I was to stand at the edge of the north island to intercept any westward bound deer that exited the aspen stand. One son covered the back door in case a deer went that way and another stood at the edge of a field. The wind was from the NNE and my chosen spot was at the northeast corner of the bog.
I took the long route to my stand on the north island so as not to spook any bedded deer. Coming across the field to my recently cut lane I found that the wind was perfect. My scent was not going out into aspens. Walking carefully, as if still hunting, I followed the path to the southeast edge of the island.
All was ready and in place. I looked out over a small cove in the bog to the cut over aspen. The distance across the blueberries to the far edge at this point was about fifty yards. The view was unimpeded above the three foot height of the short bushes.
The drivers commenced their trek through the aspen at the pre-determined time. Slowly they progressed through the 1/4 mile of cut-over. After several minutes I could see my brother-in-law and his youngest son moving inside the aspen about ten yards from the bog. No deer had yet appeared and it looked like a dry run.
Roy was moving closer, being about 100 yards from me when the buck described in the opening of the story, made his appearance. The buck bedded again, but his antlers could be seen above the blueberries. He was getting nervous because of Roy’s approach through the aspens.
My gun was ready for the inevitable jump and bound out of his bed in the blueberries. Indeed, the deer careened into the air and began his escape into the wind to the open field. My rifle, a Remington 742 autoloader in .308 caliber with a Leupold variable scope sprang to my shoulder in a well rehearsed move. The deer was in the scope and I touched off a shot. The buck shuddered, but continued out of the bog, through the narrow border of trees and brush and out into the field.
My youngest son Andrew, who was not yet old enough to hunt, had been recruited to drive and was out in the field after emerging from the aspens. He was at the brink of a slope that lead towards the bog. The buck, now out in the open, raced up the hill toward Andrew. Later on he described his surprise and wide open eyes as the deer bounded his way. The buck, hit fatally by my shot, dropped and lay not ten yards from his feet.
The buck dressed out at 135 lbs. and carried eight points with a 14 inch spread.
This was not a trophy deer, by any means, and certainly not one for the taxidermist, but its harvest had taught a valuable lesson. Bucks did use the bog itself as a bedding area and a hunter could get close to them for a decent shot.
Three of my most memorable deer hunts took place in this bog
One sunny and warm day during deer season, a north wind called for a bog stalk. Beginning at the southern end I worked my way northwards toward the island mentioned above. Moving slowly through the mounded blueberries shrubs, I crisscrossed toward likely looking “cover” within the bog. Something caught my eye near the north island. Paying no attention to the thought, I continued on for a few more steps. Realizing that what I saw just didn’t belong where it was, I took a more focused look. Laying down, with his head held high above the brush, was a hugely antlered whitetail buck. He was over 200 yards away and all I could see was his head and wide, massive beams.
A quick look through the scope confirmed what my unaided eyes saw. A huge buck was bedded at the edge of the north island. He was using the wind to cover his backside and looking southward over the expanse of low growing blueberries. There was nothing to use as a rest for my rifle. Thoughts of a low, slow stalk through the mounds of sphagnum moss and blueberry shrubs crossed my mind. It was at this point that a truck drove along the northwest edge of the bog on a little used farm two-track trail. The driver/hunter was oblivious to the presence of the deer as well as my plight in trying to get a bit closer and find a shooting rest for my trusty Remington autoloader.
The deer, obviously getting nervous as the scent of this unwanted intruder reached his nostrils, bounded up and headed west. His exit was successful. The driver of the truck never knew the deer existed.
During the 1992 season there was no snow and a southwest wind enticed me to still hunt the western edge of the bog from north to south. Hugging the alder growth, and walking through the blueberries, I moved at a slow, but steady pace. About half way through the stalk a doe and twin fawns bounded up in front of me and scurried into the heavier alder cover and off into a large block of pines. Those deer had made their escape while I was about fifty yards away. Does and fawns had never held as tightly as bucks and once again this point was proven. I chuckled at the sight of the deer as they made their exit and headed west.
Continuing along, I approached the magic southwest corner. Experience, that steady, but capricious teacher, had taught me that if there was a buck in the bog I was getting close. I slowed my pace and became alert to all that lay in front of me. I knew that any buck laying among the brambles would jump in a quick start.
Stopping with every other step, I was ready. A large deer, sporting high, wide antlers exploded from his bed. He seemed to leap straight up into the air high above the shrubbery and began his leaping bounds to heavy cover. My rifle snapped to attention on my shoulder and was firmly planted. The deer, angling away from left to right, with his nose into the wind was only a few yards from the taller alders and willows when my rifle cracked. The deer tumbled immediately with a well placed shot. He did not move.
The antlers had excellent mass with an inside spread of almost 18 inches. They sported 9 tall points and only the short brow tines kept the set from scoring much higher. The head now adorns our living room wall.
Two years ago a southeast wind called for a stalk to that corner of the bog.
This time I crossed the north island and headed for it’s high land partner to the south. As is usual, nothing happened as I crossed the open area of the bog. My senses and alertness heightened as I approached the southern island and the southeast corner of the bog. Rounding the eastern end of the island I made my careful stalk towards the corner, ready to swing into action. The huckleberries thinned out here, and there was more open ground making the travel easier and quieter.
Looking ahead I was astonished to see, rising from the very depths of the bog and behind a mound of blueberry bramble, a set of tall, wide, well massed antlers. They were about 35 yards away from where I stood. Shaking my head and blinking my eyes to clear any fuzziness because I didn’t believe what I saw, my brain confirmed what my eyes thought they saw. Never had I been this close to a bedded trophy whitetail buck.
All I could see were the antlers, no head and certainly no body. The antlers stood at least eighteen inches above the short brush.
What to do?
I inched my way about 5 yards closer, but still could see no deer, except for the antlers.
My mind raced with thoughts concerning a course of action. Should I try to move closer and to the left or right in order to see around the mounded bog earth? What if I tried to wait him out a bit longer? I decided to try to put a bullet through the thin brush below the base of the antlers hoping to take the deer in the neck. If I missed and he bounded up and away I would have another shot. “Yes”, I thought, that’s what I’ll do.
Raising my rifle I put the cross-hairs below the antlers at a point where I thought his neck should be. My index finger did its slow squeeze until, “click”. The sound told me of my failure to bolt a shell into the chamber. I was holding an empty rifle. “Damn!” I thought. The buck remained motionless in front of me.
Quickly and carefully I worked the autoloader’s bolt to chamber a round of 150 grain .308 Remington Corelock. The buck’s only reaction to the noise was a quick left and right movement of the antlers. He remained rooted to his bed.
Again raising the rifle the cross-hairs quickly found the desired spot and I squeezed the trigger. The buck bolted straight up at the shot and bounded directly away from me heading for the safety of the nearby brushy edge of the bog. This was what I call a “grouse shot”, an easy one. The cross-hairs found the back of the buck’s neck and I squeezed. The rifle’s report was loud and echoing in the lowland. Unfortunately, just as I pulled the trigger the huge deer moved to his right. It was a clean miss. In an instant the deer was in the thick edge cover of willows and tag alders and bounding away.
He stopped momentarily in the aspens about a hundred yards away, his vitals covered by trees. Following his easily found tracks in the soft soil, my heart sank as I found no signs of a hit. Trailing him to the spot where he stopped and about two hundred yards further and finding no signs of a wound confirmed my fears. I had missed him cleanly. Actually, a clean miss is far better than any type of nonfatal wound.
I was, of course, disappointed, but I also learned. What I should have done was to make a deep, guttural grunt with my mouth. This might have caused the deer to lift it’s head in order to see what the noise was. With rifle raised and ready this would have offered a quick, one shot killing opportunity. But, I didn’t do that. I become one hell of a hunter with hindsight!
This particular bog adventure didn’t end with a trophy being harvested, but it has given me many fond memories and it was a learning experience and I treasure it with just as much relish as any deer that I have ever shot.
In the intervening years, my sons and I have taken bucks from this and other bogs, always using the same still-hunting strategy of walking into the wind within 30 yards of the edge. Each time we have seen deer, they have been on the windward edge of the bog facing downwind with the breeze covering their backside. They are there and are very approachable.
The next time that, in your outdoor activity, you come upon a wide open, treeless bog, don’t dismiss it as a veritable desert for deer. Look upon the discovery as an excellent opportunity for a very different deer hunting adventure. Indeed bog bucks, and some real trophies, frequent these lowland remnants of ancient ponds and lakes.