Here in Michigan November 15th is a date that every hunter knows. It is one of the first days I look at when opening a new calendar and is a day that evokes fond memories for many of this state’s hunters. It is the opening day of Michigan’s Firearm Deer Season and is one of my favorite days of the hunting season.
I will admit that, as a bow hunter at heart, I am always a little sad putting the bow down and picking up the deer rifle but even though I love bow hunting I still hold a place in my heart for the fun and excitement of gun season. Opening day of firearms season is one of the few days of the season where you can head to the woods and know there is a pretty good chance you will be kneeling over a deer before the day is done.
My opening day strategy for the last several years has been to sit on the north end of our property along the river. Between the river itself and the way that the two woodlots lay out it creates a natural funnel and deer movement in the area is relatively predictable. Add to that some thick cover and bedding in the area and it tends to be a pretty solid area for the pressure and chaos of opening day.
The stand I chose for this opening day is one we call The Turnaround. This stand had been very good for me during bow season and the forecasted winds on opening day would be working in my favor. This stand does a great job of funneling deer into bow range but also allows for a decent view and deer that had passed through out of range during bow would now be well within range of my rifle.
As I headed out of the cabin on my way to the stand I was full of anticipation. For the first time in the last few years we were looking at a cold, crisp opening morning. There was some light snow on the ground and some light snow in the air as well and the day had all the makings of a great day in the woods.
As I neared the stand I began crossing a small ditch and heard the dreaded sound of a deer taking off. The deer only went a few strides and stopped and I was pretty sure it hadn’t seen me, only heard me. I froze in the cover of the ditch and could hear the deer slowly walking from my right to left. Suddenly the pace picked up and I caught a glimpse of a shadow moving through a moonlit gap in the woods only 15 or so yards away from me. A single deer this time of year makes me immediately think one thing…buck… and I couldn’t help but wonder what deer that may have been. After the deer left I slowly covered the remaining 25yds or so to the stand and got myself set up.
As the first few hints of daylight began reaching the forest floor I could feel the excitement and anticipation building inside me. The first shot of the day rang out from off to the north and opening day was under way.
Within probably 20 or so minutes of first light I saw my first deer of the day. It popped out of some thick brush about 75yds or so to my north west and its head down, no nonsense type of gait instantly revealed it to be a buck. It was still a bit too dark to see the rack at that distance but he was quickly closing ground and it didn’t take long for him to put himself in front of me at 35yds.
I had tried to spin to my right a bit to get the gun on him but I brushed my right elbow against the tree as I turned and he immediately froze. At first I cursed myself for the mistake but it actually worked out quite well in the end. As the buck stood frozen trying to identify the source of the noise he offered me several good looks at his head gear as well as his body. I was quickly able to determine that this buck was a 2.5 year old 8pt and I believe he was the buck I had seen in the river a few weeks earlier from this same stand. The buck was a nice looking 8pt, his relatively tall rack sat an inch or so inside the tips of his ears, but at 2.5 years old he just wasn’t quite the buck I was looking for.
He eventually decided the situation was safe and continued on his way passing directly in front of me at 30yds before disappearing into cover off to my left. As I sat and thought about passing that buck I looked off to the north and right where he had emerged just moments earlier another deer appeared. This deer was also moving quickly and I immediately assumed it was another buck.
I grabbed my binoculars and as the buck got closer I saw it was a small 4 or 5 point. He also worked right to me and passed by about 10 yards closer to me than the 8 point had just moments before. I was barely 30 minutes into opening day and already had two bucks within bow range. The day was getting off to a great start.
About 10 or 15 minutes later I heard two shots to my south east on the neighboring property. We know our neighbors well and knowing how the deer travel this area and where our neighbor’s stands are I couldn’t help but wonder if the fate of the 8 point I had passed was sealed with those shots.
The morning had started off quickly but it slowed down just as quickly. After those two bucks passed through it was pretty quiet for the next few hours other than a fleeting glimpse of a running deer to my south.
At around 10:30 I caught movement along the river to my west and spotted a doe and fawn quickly making their way through the brush. I watched their back trail hoping to catch a buck behind them but saw nothing and I quickly decided that, if given a chance, I would take the doe. Initially it looked like I wouldn’t get that chance but for whatever reason they changed course slightly and got onto the run that would bring them right past me. The doe offered a broadside shot at 32yds and, after a short and easy tracking job, I had my first deer of the 2014 season on the ground.
After dressing my doe and getting her to the field edge I saw our neighbors coming up on their quad and found out that my suspicions were correct and the buck that I had passed had been shot by the neighbor later that morning. I congratulated the lucky hunter and heard the story of his hunt. It sounded like a fun hunt with the 8 point coming in to investigate the commotion caused by a 4 point that was chasing a doe around his stand.
I would be lying if I said that I didn’t feel any disappointment when initially finding out the buck had been shot. Obviously I was hoping that buck would make it through the season (or I wouldn’t have passed in the first place) but I certainly understood that not everyone in our area was going to pass that buck. I was happy for the hunter who took the buck and the fact that the buck had been shot didn’t change my opinion on whether or not I should have shot. The buck wasn’t what I am looking for on our property and had I shot him I would have felt more disappointment in myself for taking him than I did for passing him and allowing an opportunity for another hunter who was happy to take him.
After getting my doe back up to camp I took a short break for lunch and then headed right back to the same stand for the afternoon hunt. The afternoon started off a bit slow and with about 10 minutes of light left I had only seen two small deer since returning to the stand. In the last 10 minutes of light I had a group of 4 does and fawns as well as a group of 3 does and fawns work past right down the trail at 30 yards. Having already filled my doe tag earlier that morning I simply sat back and watched as the deer filed by and then worked west along the river.
Within minutes of those deer disappearing into the brush the last bits of light faded away and Opening Day 2014 came to a close. I took a minute to reflect back on the day before I climbed down out of the tree. This day, like the rest of the first half of the 2014 season, had been a good one with multiple sightings and a successful harvest highlighting my thoughts. While the excitement of opening day may have come and gone I can only imagine what the second half of the season holds in store.