Sunrise isn’t for another 20 minutes or so, but we can already tell that today, the first full day of the deer gun season, is going to be a good one – big, blue skies, with little wind.
We’re hunting public land that has been good to us over time. We’ve taken a number of sharp-tailed grouse off these prairie hilltops in early fall before the birds wised up, along with a handful of deer, all does, that fade in and out of view as the rolling landscape dictates.
So far, our fall hasn’t gone as envisioned. Wildlife biologists soundly tried to temper our expectations from the fallout of a difficult start to winter and a trailing drought, but we were hoping otherwise. Here we are, the 11th of November, and we’ve yet to kill a rooster.
It’s full-on shooting light now as I trail behind my sons, Nathan and Jack, who, I suspect, are only thinking about shooting deer, or what I packed for lunch. The significance of this hunt, this deer season, is perhaps lost on them as this could be our last together for some time, as the older of the two is relocating out-of-state for a new career, a new life.
Thinking this, understanding the realities of growing children and their want and need to leave home, is a weight I don’t want to carry now, but there it is.
When the boys stop and quickly kneel in what’s left of the season’s first snow, I do likewise on their heels. Out about 100 yards, standing atop round bales stacked two high, is a coyote facing east, catching the day’s first sun.
We take turns watching through binoculars, expecting the coyote to bolt at any time, but for a minute, maybe more, nothing on the animal moves but its thick coat in what passes for a breeze.
It’s a cool sight. While we’ve yet to see a deer, just old sign in the snow, we agree that the day has gotten off to a good start and we have little room for complaint.
Over the coyote’s left shoulder to the north, maybe a 15-minute hike for us, is my daughter’s boyfriend, John. I don’t know exactly the hillside he’s sitting on, but I’m familiar with his view.
A lot hunters would describe it as drive-by country if there was any sort of road running through the landscape to offer a look, but there’s not. While it looks lean on habitat, you’d be wrong. Sit there long enough, often enough, and the number of deer you see can be surprising.
We regroup over hardboiled eggs, string cheese and duck jerky and there’s talk, jokingly I think, that I’m the reason we’re not shooting any deer. After hitting a number of my “go-to” spots, my “honey holes,” no one has pulled the trigger.
I’m the shuttle driver now, the bad luck charm sitting out the next hunt, driving from point A to pick up the hunters at point B. Their plan is to hike south into some hills, belly crawl over a specific knob to see if deer that were spotted the day before are bedded in the same patch of brush.
What are the odds?
I didn’t hear any of the shots. Missed all the excitement which, after getting a cellphone call and hiking into the hills with drag ropes and a kid’s snow sled, come in rushed accounts and excited hand-waving.
Three deer, two bucks and a doe, lie in the snow not far, from what I can decipher from the running narrative, from where they were bedded the day before.
Turns out, the odds were good.