The morning was cool, but not so chilly that two long-sleeved hunting shirts and a hoody weren’t enough. I was up at 4:30 AM in order to scent-free shower and get dressed before heading to the continental breakfast provided by the Beloit Super 8 Motel, where I was staying courtesy of Veterans 4 Veterans Outdoor Adventures. Continental breakfast food is not normally on my menu plan, but I figured I would get hungry sitting in the blind, and didn’t want to experience my tummy grumbling like buck burps (as has happened previously). So I made half a waffle to accompany my cheese-filled egg, my 1/5 of a bowl of Frosted Flakes, and my steaming hot cup of coffee.
By 6:00 AM I was riding toward my hunting location with Vets4Vets President/Founder, Jesse Mudd. To his credit, Jesse had showed me the location of the ground blind at least four different times on his mobile phone, with actual images of the terrain and landmarks. None the less, I managed to get lost out in the fields of hay and grass while walking to my location in the dark of morning, pre-sunrise. I knew I had strayed off course when I walked directly into a barbed wire fence before reaching my destination. Apparently I had turned East at the windmill, instead of West, and couldn’t see other landmarks well because I was using my Army angle-head flashlight with the red filter on the lens, for stealth mode. It was then I texted Jesse, reporting that I was returning to the windmill to try again. He promptly texted back to head West from the windmill; leading me to suffer a blonde/aged moment panicking because I didn’t know where West was in the field. Fortunately the caffeine from my coffee activated my brain and I remembered the sun rises in the East, meaning I just had to go in the opposite direction. Jesse also suggested I stop using my stealth flashlight and use my real flashlight so I could see. That did the trick and I was able to locate the ground blind, but not before traipsing all over the grove of Juniper trees with my bright white LED light.
Jesse’s rule from the night before had been “no shooting does.” He stated firmly that they are live bait to bring the bucks in, so are off limits until after the rut, during rifle season. After my 11 minute adventure in the fields I wondered if any would bother to even show up; but at 7:30 AM a healthy-looking, mature doe arrived at the feeder to nosh for a while. At one point a buck spied her, but he kept his distance 112 yards away and then scurried off as if spooked. After the first doe left, two more showed up at 8:30; one being young and still square-shaped and the other being slightly older, and acting maternally toward the smaller one. They left by 8:45 and the rest of the morning was uneventful; though I stayed out until 11:00 AM just in case.
After lunch in town, Jesse brought me back out to the blind and I was set up and ready for action by 2:45 PM. But at 3:00 I saw trucks driving up the trail toward my hunting spot, and found myself somewhat surrounded. Most of the men who had gotten out of the pick-up trucks remained by them, but one older gentleman approached the blind after someone told him there was a hunter sitting in it. Lowering my crossbow, I stepped forward and put my head to the blind window introducing myself. Long story short; the older gentleman was the property owner who had not been tracking that he agreed to allow Vets4Vets to use the land for disabled veterans to hunt, and his hunting buddies had shown up wanting to hunt. The landowner graciously left, with his men, and agreed that the location was mine for the weekend. They drove out of sight, but by 3:30 I heard gunfire which continued for almost 30 minutes at well-spaced intervals; at least 40 rounds. I wondered if it might be possible for any deer to show up that afternoon, given the trucks, the talking, the human odor, and the on-going gunfire.
Lo and behold, sometime around 6:15 a buck walked in. He was a beautiful buck and I immediately set my sights on him. He stopped to check the area out and I had a perfect shot of his left side; but having recently read an article on overcoming buck fever I decided I should breathe and not take a shot immediately. I’m pretty sure when the author of the article discussed taking time and acting slowly and deliberately he was contemplating more than 45 seconds or so; but that’s about what I gave the buck from that initial sighting. He walked to the feeder, and though he gave no indication that his dinner would be short or on the fly, I suddenly felt the need to take aim and shoot before he could get away. Unfortunately, the game camera was strategically placed between the buck’s kill zone and my crossbow, so in my haste to shoot I had to aim around the camera. It made for a lousy shot, although I didn’t realize that at the time, hitting the buck below his organs near his “arm pit” just above the white of his belly. The arrow didn’t set in far, and the buck ran off.
Night was beginning to fall as I searched for him, finding no blood trail and no indication of where he went. Later that night, Jesse and a couple of his friends joined us in searching the fields for the any sign of the buck; to no avail. But let me return to “night was beginning to fall….” I grabbed my phone to text Jesse that I shot a buck and needed help, but my phone battery had died. The only plans Jesse and I had made for my pick up was for transportation after dark. Alone in a field, at night, with no telephone or mode of communication, “after dark” could have been hours later. I left my hunting gear in the ground blind and, with my LED flashlight, headed down to the road in case Jesse pulled up. I had already heard many coyote calls, but that’s when my flashlight landed directly on the face of a yote staring at me from the other side of the barbed wire fence. I suddenly felt very vulnerable.
Back home I’d have my sidearm on while hunting (as well as any time I’m in public), but on this evening my .9mm was back home on my nightstand and my .380 was nestled safely in my truck at the motel. I did an about-face and returned to the blind, where I figured I at least had my skinning and field dressing knives for self-protection. About an hour later, a truck arrived to pick me up, being driven by a fellow Marine friend of my host, Jesse. Later that night a group of us returned to the fields to search for my buck, and emboldened by the presence of three hunters and two hunting dogs, I took off in the late night in search of my lost prize. Jesse and I returned after lunch on Sunday also, to find no trace of an injured buck, but rather to see a similar looking buck hanging out with a doe napping (until we buzzed by in a four-wheeler).
So ended my buck hunt weekend. Although I ultimately left Mitchell County empty handed, I was taking home a lasting impression of the great folks associated with Vets4Vets, as well as memories of an awesome hunting experience, and gained knowledge about hunting and deer habitat. I also was gifted with first-hand familiarity of buck fever and how it genuinely corrupts the pivotal moment of any hunt – taking the shot for the harvest. Yet rather than feeling defeated; I returned home with increased passion and obsession for getting my deer, and built a home-made feeder which I placed out on my normal hunting property in hopes of turning Veterans Day 2016 into this veteran’s victory day in the blind.