An “Unsuccessful” Handgun Hunt

An “Unsuccessful” Handgun Hunt

Last year I set out to harvest a whitetail with a handgun.  It sure sounds easy on my farm that is overrun with deer and with 2 weeks to hunt, but it turned out to be not as simple as just sitting on the back half of the farm and waiting.  I had handgun hunted a day or two in seasons prior to this, but this was different, I was resigned to only hunt with a handgun through the season.

I don’t hunt over a corn pile or other artificial bait.  That means the deer aren’t always where I expect them, or want them to be.  I know the place has plenty of deer, because not only do I see the sign in the form of trails, tracks, droppings, rubs, and scrapes, but I also see deer regularly.

The problem is, deer are living here, not just passing through on the trail.  My farm is covered with overgrown brush, deciduous new grown trees, and eastern red cedars.  Deer love all of that.  They love the cedars for both the wind break, and the seclusion they offer.  They love the blackberry thickets for the dense cover and for the browse, as well as all the red maple leaves.  Deer also love red bud trees and wild dogwood,  not to mention the honeysuckle that grows up the fence rows.  Yep, deer love my property for all that browse and seclusion.  I have some white oak trees in the back, and that of course is their favorite when its in season.

The other thing that deer love about my property, is that it’s not a hotbed of human activity.  I walk it some, and they know I’m generally not interested in them.  I don’t let others hunt my land or run dogs, and I don’t have a quad trail running back and forth either, so it’s generally nice and quiet.  Deer love a nice quiet tucked away spot.

So the problem is, since deer are literally everywhere on my property, I have a hard time figuring where exactly they are going to be.  Not that it’s not possible, but rather that I’m still learning the habits of this query.  I’ve shot a couple deer off the farm, so I know it is possible.  However, it seems more often than not, I think they are going to be in one area, but alas, it seems they tend to be in another.

Last year was one of those years.  With modern gun deer season in my area lasting 2 weeks, plus the fore and aft weekends, it’s really not that long.  No matter how much I plan for it, add in other things like work, life, and farm chores, and deer hunting isn’t the only activity I can focus on for that 2 weeks.  So, like many other hunters, I end up hunting a lesser number of days than I want.

I did get out a good amount of time though last season, and had some very interesting encounters.  The first several days I didn’t see or hear anything.  But then I had an encounter that was both encouraging and exhilarating.  I was sitting on a small boulder, off the trail about 20 yards or so, with my back against a fallen log.  I had a fair amount of brush in front of me for cover.  I know deer are going up and down the trail I was watching as I see their tracks.  Its a game trail that I have widened with the lawnmower for easier walking and access to the back part of the farm with the mower.

I was sitting there, soaking in the sun, as it was a coldish day.  I was thinking about things and praying a little, when I heard something.  It wasn’t the Lord, rather it was a noise I couldn’t quite make out behind me.  I had my hunter orange hoodie’s hood up, and I slowly turned my torso and head as much as I could towards the left.  Before I could lay eyes on the spot that I heard this sound from, PFFFTSH! A deer blew and moved off through the brush behind me, stomping into the earth heavily as he bounded through the brush to my right.  I never seen it, though it had to have been a buck by that reaction.

Bucks of course are the kind of critters that try not to get surprised, and will come up behind you if they suspect you are there.  A little more investigation showed that there is plenty of deer trails spiderwebbing through the buck brush behind where I was sitting.  Silly me, thinking the deer would stick to the trail I was watching.

In fact, that trail I was watching converges with another trail just 35 yards away where there is a rub.  A hub like that is always prime spot, but as it turned out, I was made before I got to even see my query, at about 3:30 PM.  I continued to sit there until dusk, hoping that same deer might just amble back down the trail, or that a doe or another buck might come meandering along.

While I didn’t see any more deer activity that day, I did have a really cool encounter with a gray squirrel.   I’m sitting on my rock, minding my own business, hoping to make my business a deer’s business, and I hear some rustling to my left.  I turn my head very slowly, and behold, a curious squirrel comes across a network of limbs and stops right on a boulder that is adjacent from my boulder.  He was about 10 yards away, and he looked me over for a good 30 seconds.  He had a nut in his mouth, that appeared to be a walnut that he had been working on.   He then commenced to go up a tree and across the limbs and over about 30 yards to a cedar tree and disappeared to cache his nut.  He acted as if he’d never had the chance to see a human before.

The squirrel decided to get a closer look from that boulder.

Several of the days that I’d hunted in the afternoons I had seen deer just off the jeep trail that goes back to my shooting range.  I normally still hunt when I’m walking back there, being very slow, watching and listening for deer.  It’s very common for me to see deer there in the afternoon or evenings when I’m going back there for some target practice, so it’s no surprise that I also have seen some when going back there to hunt.  Unfortunately, none of those times offered a clear or clean shot.  Sometimes it was just the sound of deer making tracks, and sometimes I saw deer as they made their way for a more private spot.

I hunted a few more evenings after the day the buck made me and didn’t see anything.  On closing day, I got started right after church.  I walked down the jeep trail with my 44 Special Ruger Blackhawk in hand, hoping to be ready for a surprise encounter.  When I made my way back to the end of the trail, where the clearing is, my senses were on alert.  I was creeping along, being very quiet, with what little sound I was making masked by a light wind.  I looked to my right, and there stood two does, just about 20 yards away.

I was faced with a choice; I could shoot at them one handed, with my right hand, or I could take a step to position my body for a two handed shot.  I chose the latter.  When I stepped back with my right foot to better my position, the does scattered.  One went left and one went right.  I stood perfectly still, gun raised, waiting…and thinking, for what seemed like 5 minutes.  But it was probably more like 60 seconds.

During that thinking, I considered continuing up the trail to the spot I had chosen, however, one fact kept me where I was.  The does had split. I had seen only two deer, but knowing it’s just as likely that there were 3, 4 or 5 does in that group, I decided to wait in hopes that the one of the does would come back by to reconnect with their companions.

I assessed the situation, and decided to sit down right where I was.  There was a 5 gallon bucket handy that I keep on the range,  so I put that in front of me to hopefully break up my silhouette a little.  My thinking was, perhaps whichever doe that was trying to catch up would walk past, even though she knew I was there, figuring my business that day was like all the other days I’ve been back there to target shoot or just to think.  I was hoping to get lucky.

After about 5 minutes I heard some rustling farther into the woods and I suspect that the doe that went right had made her way back, just out of my sight.

I was pretty excited by all this, but at the same time, a bit dejected.  I sat there another 10 minutes or so, but heard nothing else.  I decided to move on down the trail where I had intended to hunt.   In a spot close to the rock I like to sit on, but about 30 yards to the north.

I made my way to the spot, which overlooks a good convergence of trails that I call the Walnut Stand.  Its a bottom, where plenty of walnut trees are growing tall and straight.  Some of them are 8″ to 10″ in diameter, and some less.  Its a dandy spot for sitting and watching, and there are several trails that come through there.  I got situated on the side of the hill, underneath a couple cedar trees and waited.  It was still a couple hours until dusk when I made it back there, but I didn’t see or hear any deer from that spot unfortunately.

While I sat there I reflected on the does that I missed the chance at just moments prior, as well as the whole season.  I thought about what makes a successful hunt.  Is it merely killing an animal?  Putting meat in the freezer?  Some would say yes.  However, being a handgun hunter, I naturally think differently.  I voluntarily limit myself by using a handgun, because hunting is more than just killing of game, it is an experience that speaks to the most basic part of a mans soul.

This season was a success in that I learned more about my quarry, including more of what not to do.  Not to mention, I spent many hours outdoors, enjoying God’s beautiful creation, all while having a trusted sixgun in my hand.

So, I will try to hunt harder this coming season, and though success is not guaranteed no matter how hard one hunts,  because of this past season it will be that much sweeter when I do get my first handgun deer.