In October, I got down to business preparing for the upcoming Ohio shotgun season. It ran from November 26th, through the 2nd of December. My hunting pal, Jimmie Fraley and myself were bowhunting and scouting as much as possible. Although our jobs kept us out of the woods throughout most of the week. Our weekends were spent in them.
Before opening day of bow season we had alot to do. Jimmie and I acquired hunting rights from a long time friend of my family and local farmer. Located in North Central Ohio’s firelands area, (Huron County) we began to survey the land. I made a stop to the county courthouse one day, and picked up a poster size map of our new hunting land. The map detailed property lines, highways and county roads, crop fields, rivers, swamps, creeks, and woodlands. A valuable tool for studying, and plotting our hunting schemes.
A knock on the door of the farm next door proved to be an asset. The lady owned a narrow stretch of land with a cornfield, swamp, fence row, and a small section of woods that attached to the woods we already had rights to hunt. She signed our hunting slips and we were thankful for the opportunities that were given to us.
As we scouted our new territory, we found several tracks, scraps, and tree rubs throughout! We thought to ourselves, “we are on to something here”. But it was alot of area for two guys to cover. So we concentrated on the cornfield with the swamp next to it. This is where we found the most significant signs of deer activity. And we were excited to find the tracks of a “brutus” Ohio buck. His dew claw impressions were 4 inches behind the back of his hoof. He was big!
Throughout October, we were unsuccessful in harvesting any deer. We were wondering what we were doing wrong. We were setup perfectly with a food source and we were downwind on a dominant trail. By the peak of the rut we decided that the deer were limiting their daytime activities, and were bedding down within a swamp nearly 250 yards from the cornfield and swamp were were set up on. They had water within the swamp and only needed to leave it at night to feed. So our plans had to change, and it was not looking good.
The swamp the deer were held up in was a heavy thicket all the way around, about 30 yards wide and 50 yards long. Getting in undetected was impossible, and part of the swamp belonged to another landowner, who only allows family and friends to hunt. We were stumped. So we sat around the swamp, and near the property line of the swamp best we could. Even though we really wanted to harvest a deer with a bow and arrow, it was the last weekend before shotgun season, and we had to get our guns sighted in.
My 11 year old son Ryan, had completed his safety hunter’s course back in September, and was wanting to join us during shotgun season. I acquired a Savage “Springfield” .410 pump. So Jimmie, Ryan, and myself loaded up Sunday afternoon and we went out to sharpen our shooting skills for the season ahead. Jimmie was toting a Mossberg 12 ga. semi-auto, with the rifled slug barrel. I had the Charles Daly, semi-auto, VR Field Grade 12 ga. with a smooth bore and an improved cylinder choke tube. Ryan’s .410 was on target. He fired three shells, and put it away. Although Jimmie was not completely thrilled with the patterns he was throwing out, he was confident in his ability to bring down a deer. My Charles Daly was shooting fine. As sunday evening came to a close, we were anxious to hit the woods. Tomorrow was opening day!
I was extremely excited for Ryan. This was his first deer hunt! I wanted to be there with the both of them opening day, but my prayers for rain went unanswered, as I was scheduled to work. There were two other gentlemen permitted to hunt the land this week, so everyone got their heads together to plan the attack. Opening day for Jimmie and Ryan was exciting, as shots rang out in the morning around 7:30. They sat along a creek bottom about 50 yards apart, when an eight point came busting through the woods. Ryan had the shot, and took it. He fired his last two rounds as the buck left him behind. Ryan gave chase, as more shots rang out. When Ryan and Jimmie came up on the deer laying in the winter wheat sprouts next to the creek bottom, they were greeted by a hunter from the woods behind them. He had also shot the deer and tracked it across the property line. Jimmie asked Ryan if he thought he hit the deer, and Ryan wasn’t sure. After examining the deer, they discovered that both ears had been pierced by Ryan’s .410 slug, but was of course not the shot that brought it down. Jimmie allowed the hunter from across the property line to take his harvest back with him, in hopes that the favor could be returned sometime. With all the shots taken opening day, the hunter from across the way, was the only one that tagged a deer.
The second day of the season sent me back to work again, while Ryan and Jimmie went back to the woods. It would be Jimmie’s turn. A decent size doe stood beside the creek bottom as they came back out after lunch. It was only about a 20 yard shot, but she was straight on, and his shot missed. She turned, and ran straight away, his second and third shots also missed the mark. He was unimpressed with his slug barrel, and changed back to his smooth bore for the hunt of day three.
The rain had finally arrived! My turn to join in on the hunt. We decided to stalk the fence row down to the swamp by the cornfield we had hunted so often throughout October and most of November. The only thing we jumped up was a rabbit. So Jimmie and I decided to take Ryan over to our landowner’s other property behind his farm about 5 miles away. We had done some limited scouting there, and found that the deer were using the same trails as his sheep. Scraps and rubs were in abundance, but the rain had the deer bedded down, and we had not heard a shot all day. A slight rain kept us from hearing much of anything but the drops hitting the leaves. It started to get alittle chilly, as we were all getting a bit wet. We retreated to the truck for a lunch break, and then decided to go back to the other set of woods for the rest of the afternoon. The rain subsided, and the water soaked leaves allowed us to look around. We could see throughout the woods that the deer trails were all leading to the heavy thicket ladened swamp. The one with no way in. Evening fell upon us, and the end of day three came to a close.
Frustration had set in as the weather forecast for day four and part of day five was also going to be a wet one. Ryan’s hunt was over, at least until saturday. He needed to go back to school. Jimmie decided to set out day four to regroup for part of day 5 and the weekend.
I on the other hand, I had only got to hunt on the third day, so I was ready to battle the elements to pursue my harvest. I decided to call Galen, a buddy that I worked with. He was an avid hunter, and had invited me to a muzzleloader hunt after christmas. He said to come on out. I was there in 15 minutes. Galen’s brother Bryan joined us and we headed out to the woods. They had two pieces of woods to stalk. We took after the smaller of the two, and walked it. It was only about 200 yards long, so we took our time, and hoped to jump something up within shooting range. When the three of us reached the end of the woods we were facing the east bound lanes of the ohio turnpike. We were on the south side of the highway. The other woods were west of us, across 400 yards of a chisel plowed field, soaked with rains of the past two days. The mud was thick on the bottoms and sides of our boots, and they were heavy as we tromped across field. There was a light fog, and a slight mist of rain coming down. When we reached the opening between the woods, we rubbed the mud off our boots, Galen and Bryan set me on the corner of the woods running along side the turnpike. Although the woods wasn’t more than 50 yards across, it was about 400 yards deep, running east and west. After the brothers left me on the corner, they started walking down the tractor trail, about 50 yards. They stopped and turned around towards me and threw their index fingers in the air. This was to let me know that they spotted at least one deer. They continued down the trail. I was facing west with a slight mist of rain coming out of the southwest. I was about 35 yards off the northeast corner of the woods, hunkered in a patch of weeds about waist high. I had my Charles Daly 12 gauge loaded with my three shells and I was ready. My fourth shell was in the hand I used to hold the forearm of my gun barrel.
I stood there patiently, thinking about all kinds of things, while checking left, then right, and left again. I began thinking about how disappointed Ryan must be with his first deer hunt. I was also thinking about Jimmie, and how I wished he was there to hunt with me. And about “Bre”, my wife, whose patience throughout the last couple months of deer season, has been incredible. I asked God to bless all of them, and to throw alittle luck my way, as the mist turned to a light shower. I told God that he must have misunderstood what I prayed for... I prayed for luck, not rain.
Just then, a doe bounce out the woods where the boys had pointed just 20 minutes before. I ducked down slowly and she stopped about 15 yards into the clearing beside the tractor trail. She looked around in confusion. It was clear that she was looking for somewhere to run. It was then, that I first saw him. A huge ohio buck! He tromped into the clearing behind her. They were about 45 yards away from me. His rack was unmistakable given the terrain behind him. He was a beautiful animal. The kind of deer you see the professionals hunt on television.
Then the doe began to walk towards me. I didn’t want them to bounce into the woods on my right, because the turnpike was also to the right. So I stood up. She saw me, and dashed to the left in front of me, to the corner of the woods I was guarding. The buck never saw me, he just followed her. When he turned broadside to enter the corner of the woods...BOOM...BOOM...BOOM, and I took that forth shell that I had held in my hand, and loaded it into the breach and closed it. After my third shot, the buck leaped into the corner of the woods directly in front of me, about 30 yards away and stopped. The doe bounced a couple more times, and she also stopped. The buck took two steps to my left, to a small clearing, no wider than he was long, and my forth shot rang out. The doe busted across to the south corner, through the clearing I was standing in, and entered a small stand of woods behind me. The buck began to follow her to the south corner, and I walked a quick step towards his direction, while reloading my gun with three more shells, when he dropped out of sight.
I slowed to a quite stalk about 25 yards from where he went down, fearing he would jump up again. As I got closer I spotted him. The forth shot was on the mark, just behind his left shoulder. I sat down quietly about 15 yards away, and waited for my friends to arrive. We were quiet for a few seconds, while we stood there and gazed at my harvest. His tines were long. Especially his brow tines. One was 8 inches, the other 9. We counted 12 points! His body was thick. He was a brute. We measured his neck, below his jaws at 24 inches, and 28 inches before the shoulders. It was a fine hunt. And he was a fine deer.
After all the preparation, and hours of studying maps, scraps, rubs, and trails, I never expected to harvest my deer anywhere else, but the hunting grounds that Jimmie and I had started hunted together back in the Firelands. And even though Ryan was in school, and Jimmie wasn’t there to help me celebrate, his hunting tips and his lucky orange stocking cap were.
You see... I had never harvested a deer, and this was only my second shotgun season. And even though I watched alot of hunting videos, shows on television, and read my field & stream, outdoor life, and american hunter magazines, I learned so much more in the field from my hunting buddies. This 12 point, buckeye turnpike buck was my first. And it was made possible because of ethical, and instructional hunting friend’s like Jimmie, Galen, and Bryan, that I could experience a safe, enjoyable hunt.