As the frenzy of the 2020 political season prepared to crash to some sort of train wreck close, only one thing was left to do on Nov. 3: Head to the woods for deer hunting.
My friend Bruce Lee in Essex County graciously opens his sprawling, well-managed farm to me a couple of times each deer season. He has practiced a form of quality deer management there for decades, and his trail camera images of some of the property’s bucks are impressive.
“Bring along your neighbor Dan [Josselyn], too,” Lee said.
I asked if I could swap Dan for his 14-year-old son Colton, an avid hunter and my partner in a new wild game cooking video series we’re doing in concert with The Hunting Wire. This could be a chance to get some venison and some video footage.
“Bring ‘em both,” Lee said.
We arrived in mid-afternoon, quickly heading to one of the artfully crafted, two-person blinds on the property to shoot some video scenes. Before long, it was time to get to our individual stands.
Colton was in a stand that I was familiar with, abuttting a patch of oaks with a small food plot in front. My grandson Kenny killed his first buck nearly 10 years ago from that stand. Everyone was optimistic for Colton’s chances of seeing deer.
I headed to a blind they call “the hexagon,” because it is built in six pieces. This is one of those blinds that, when you get in, you say, “I need to build one just like this.”
Each side has a tight-sealing window that you open by pushing outward on the glass while simultaneously pulling on a stout string threaded through a hole above the window. A nail is tied to the end of the string. Once the window elevates to 90 degrees, you slip the nail into a predrilled hole at the top right of the frame. This locks the window in place. The window interiors have pieces of camouflaged, see-through screen, sliced such that small flaps can be lifted and tucked out of the way. I loved the ingenuity!
For decades, I routinely carried a 21-pound climbing tree stand, my gun and a daypack a good half-mile or so into the woods. If I got a deer, it meant multiple trips back to the truck, often at night. Today, climbing into a comfortable, weather-shielding blind with a swivel seat is my idea of deer hunter heaven.
I arrived at 3:30 p.m., settled in and did what all modern deer hunters seem to do: start surfing the internet, checking Facebook, reading emails. That practice, I’m sure, costs many of us opportunities at deer. But even in the pre-internet days, I’d often bring a book in my daypack. The rule was read a page, look around, repeat process.
As the afternoon shadows lengthened, I decided to get serious and put the phone down. The small field in front of the blind was planted with a crop that looked like rye. Lee said deer hadn’t been frequenting the food plots much, at least not during daylight.
Like many parts of Virginia this year, his piece of Essex County enjoyed a solid hard mast crop with abundant acorns. Deer tend to hang near the oaks while they work through the supply of nutritious acorns. A narrow lane, maybe eight yards wide, had been cut a couple hundred yards into the woods to my left. Oaks towered along each side.
I picked up my venerable True Talker grunt tube, the original one I’ve used for more than 25 years. This deer call still plays like a Louis Armstrong trumpet. I blew a couple of long doe bleats followed by tending buck grunts.
Within five minutes, I detected movement on the lane. A doe. I picked up my binoculars and caught a quick glimpse of her buck escort. At first glance, he looked like a mature specimen with dark, caramel-colored antlers. I lowered the binoculars, muttering that I should have picked up my CVA Accura muzzleloader instead of the glasses. For all I knew, that first glimpse might be my last glimpse.
I grunted again, this time with gun up and ready.
The buck burst across the lane, 90 yards away, offering no opportunity. I hit the tube once more and the deer soon reversed course, giving me a scant three-second opportunity to decide. I wanted a better look, but it wasn’t to be. A loud fawn bleat sound I made using my own voice failed to stop him.
With the scope’s crosshairs perfectly centered on the notch behind the deer’s front left leg where it met the shoulder, I squeezed the trigger, belching Blackhorn 209 propellant smoke from the gun. I was certain it was a killing shot.
The buck piled up about 60 yards in the woods, its heart taken out by the 300-grain Barnes Expander MZ saboted bullet.
Friends ask why I use such a hefty round and the answer comes down to one thing: that heavier round offers enhanced ballistic stability. With that load in that gun, I can consistently shoot 1.5-inch groups at 100 yards. Most people will take that all day long with a muzzleloader.
By examining its lower jawbone, we aged my buck at 3.5 years old. It weighed 135 pounds field dressed. Using a reliable formula that I first read in a Dan Schmidt article in Deer and Deer Hunting magazine, I calculate it will yield about 65 pounds of boneless meat.
Colton also filled a tag, shooting a doe in the waning minutes of daylight. Dan passed on a buck that he said was even larger than my eight-pointer.
Overall, it wasn’t a bad afternoon. In fact, you might say it was an election day win.