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Old September 11, 2010, 05:24 AM   #1
Join Date: January 20, 2006
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For new (or wanna be) hunters

This story is true. I published it several years ago, but I think it is worth sharing again as deer season approaches.

The Most Important Lesson:
Mike Skelly

Like most, as a young hunter I longed for my first buck. I didn't take a deer the first season despite numerous sightings. The deer were there. I just couldn't seem to get a clear shot. I saw only tails, or running deer instead of deer standing broadside waiting for me like I thought they should. As the second season opened, I wondered if I should take shots that I was not 100% sure of. I had a tag for antlered deer only, so I would at least have to make sure that the deer was a buck before I pulled the trigger. I resolved that I would take the first shot at a buck I saw. No more waiting for the perfect broadside pose. If I could just be sure it had antlers I would pull the trigger no matter what.
I had one glimpse of a departing tail opening day. My hunting companion bagged a nice six-point (eastern count) opening morning and so after that I was on my own, pitting my wits and knowledge of the terrain against the wily bucks I knew were there. The next day I saw three does trotting across an open field, but could not legally take them. By the afternoon of the third day I had buck fever. I thought I could see antlers in every clump of brush. Every fallen log was a buck in his bed to my eyes. I hunted away from home all morning. Without much thought, I crossed onto the next farm about noon. I did not doubt that access would be granted if I took the time to ask permission. We were on good terms with the neighbors and the area that I planned to hunt was cropland bordered by woods and a brush-choked stream bed well away from any livestock.

It was this stream that drew me over the fence line. I knew that any deer feeling pressured could duck into its gully to skirt the open field on one side and the open hardwoods on the other. I took a position overlooking where the gully ended. Any deer walking that brushy corridor would emerge into my view and either cross the field of corn stubble before me or work up the slope of open hardwoods on the far side. If a buck walked either of those routes my investment in cold toes and fingers would be well worthwhile. I chose to settle in for a long wait, watching the shadows grow as the afternoon wore on.
Just about the time I was thinking more of my damp seat and cold toes than watching the hedgerow, I became aware of something moving in the gully. A bird flew up at the far range of my vision. Then a moment later, the sound of a snapping twig reached me faintly over the gentle sound of running water. Long minutes passed without revealing the wary buck and I gradually became less alert, lulled by the gurgling stream and the motion of gently swaying saplings. The dappled leaves still holding to them occasionally drifted down to mingle with the berry bushes separating the watercourse from me.

Minutes had passed without any sign of life when a crackle of breaking brush at the near end of the gully shot adrenaline through my veins. There was something unmistakably moving just out of sight and coming my way! I saw the top of a sapling move as something out of sight brushed against its trunk. The falling yellow poplar leaves drifted against the thick hedge of briars below. The form under the saplings moved closer. Yes, I could see it now. The unmistakable gray of deer hair glimpsed between silver saplings and the screen of red berry stalks. A sneaky old buck must have walked straight down the streambed. The noise of his approach had been covered by the gentle gurgle of running water and muffled by the wall of brush.

My breathing became ragged. My heart pounded in my chest. I could feel every pulse in my shoulders and throat. My palms begin to sweat as my thumb reached for the safety on the rifle that lay heavily in my lap as the animal moved toward me. Oh if I could only see antlers!

I tightened my grip on the cold stock. I could see the shape of his body now. It was about 3-4 feet long, soft gray, 3 feet off the ground and moving slowly, and steadily my way. He was nearly free of the saplings, which at that point, had a few low branches. We were only separated by the screen of thick blackberry bushes. I thought about the powerful cartridge in the chamber and knew that the briar stems could not deflect the bullet from its intended target. I would click off the safety, throw the rifle to my shoulder, and fire the instant I saw antlers. I contemplated the devastation a shot raking from chest to tail would create. Without a doubt the buck would slump in his tracks and I would have to drag him up the stream bank and out of those thick thorn bushes. Perhaps I should let him step clear? He was coming the right way. I realized that I was holding my breath. Then I saw the antlers.

I could not help but pause at the sight of them. I had dreamed of this moment for so very long. This was going to be my first buck, and oh what antlers they were! Powerfully thrusting through the thick berry bushes, the antlers shoved through the briar screen and broke into the open. With raking motions the rack moved toward me. I saw three long tines on each side and thick brow tines sweeping ahead of a gray hulking body almost as tall as the low sapling branches. I heard the briar stems breaking. I could even hear his breath and began to raise the rifle.

I never fired. I never finished clicking off the safety. In fact, I never even raised the rifle from my lap. I sat stone still with the kind of chill in my soul that I hope I never feel again. Long minutes later I was quite alone at the edge of that field. For what I saw as that matched set of perfect antlers was thrust clear of the briars, was that they quickly split apart and fell earthward when the man who held them stood up. This hunter, with rifle slung over his shoulder, had bent at the waist to move under the low branches and held his rattling antlers in either hand to push thorns away from his face as he climbed the stream bank. He never knew I was there. He never knew how close his tree bark camouflage had brought him to being a terrible statistic. As I look back now, more than a decade later, I do not recall seeing any red or blaze clothing at all. What I do recall is that my hands shook as I took them off the unused rifle and silently thanked God that I had learned the most valuable lesson of hunting without tragedy.

I've taken more than a dozen deer from that same area over the seasons that followed. But two years ago I went deerless. I heard my buck working a rub, and caught glimpses of his gray hide moving away through the hardwoods in the last light of the last day of the season, but I let him walk into the shadows with my tag unfilled. I was 99% sure of my target. But 99% is not sure enough, because years before I had learned that when you are hunting, safety is the most important lesson of all.
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Old September 11, 2010, 05:42 AM   #2
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Thanks for coming!
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Old September 11, 2010, 05:50 AM   #3
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Thanks for sharing!
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Old September 11, 2010, 06:27 AM   #4
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An absolute fantastic read. One that should be shared in hunting safety classes throughout.

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Old September 11, 2010, 07:19 AM   #5
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This should be re-posted at the beginning of every hunting season. Really drives home the importance of patience/identifying your target from the shooters perspectice, and the need for all of us to wear some blaze orange.
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Old September 11, 2010, 12:55 PM   #6
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Great story! And great self-control under stress. I agree, any wanna-be hunter should read it and ponder its lesson often.
Never try to educate someone who resists knowledge at all costs.
But what do I know?
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Old September 12, 2010, 12:38 AM   #7
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Good read. Thanks for being so responsible.
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Old September 12, 2010, 01:55 AM   #8
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Thanks for the post!

Very wise advice from a great experience.

Always be aware of your target, never fire till 100% certain and be aware whats behind it!
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Old September 12, 2010, 12:16 PM   #9
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What an amazing occurence and great story, thatnks for sharing!
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Old September 12, 2010, 08:07 PM   #10
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Thanks guys. I published thsi story in "More Tales of the Ultimte Sportsmen" which you can get on Amazon, or here:

I try to post it in a few places before each hunting season, but if you want to pass it along I have no objection as long as you don't try to sell the story. i know one hunter education instructor who uses the story with every class. If I can stop even just one hunting accident, I'll consider my writing career a sucess.

Thanks for the kind words.

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Old September 12, 2010, 10:55 PM   #11
Dr. Strangelove
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Thanks for the post, and great writing, by the way.

A game officer was killed last year here in GA by someone hunting coyotes at night, someone didn't positively identify their target.

A wonderful reminder that we are 100% responsible for the rounds we send downrange.

A second of carelessness = a lifetime of regret.

Be certain of your target and what lies behind.

Wear your orange and use a light, even if you don't need a light. The life you save may be your own....

Last edited by Dr. Strangelove; September 12, 2010 at 11:01 PM.
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Old September 13, 2010, 11:25 AM   #12
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Great story, Mike; thanks for posting it. That would make a good "required read" in a hunter safety class.
Cogito, ergo armatus sum.
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Old September 13, 2010, 02:18 PM   #13
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great lesson. A good safety tip is to spray paint your "rattling" horns hunter orange. They will still work.
Strive to live up to the opinion that your dog has of you.
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Old September 14, 2010, 08:19 PM   #14
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Great story. I know the point is to be sure of your target, but I think another lesson to be learned from this is to always ask permission even if you know you are welcome. To let someone know you will be there can help avoid situations like this. If there is some communication you might know that someone else plans to be hunting the same area.
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Old September 15, 2010, 08:50 AM   #15
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Thanks for posting this and I think it's something that all hunters should be reminded of not just new ones. Very glad this story had a happy ending.
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Old September 15, 2010, 10:40 AM   #16
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Good story Mike and an important reminder for every one who hunts.
"He who laughs last, laughs dead." Homer Simpson
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Old September 16, 2010, 01:14 PM   #17
Brian Pfleuger
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This is a good reminder.

I had a similar, though less dramatic (at least in the retelling), situation that also completely changed the way I think in the woods.

I was probably 18 or 19 and my father had gone to the end of a very long section of scrubs to walk back my way and hopefully push me a deer. Well, before long I hear something coming. I knew it was a deer. Sounded like a deer walking, stopped and started like a deer, didn't make any non-deer sounds and it was WAY too soon for dad to be back. I didn't point the gun but I did click off the safety and prepare to shoulder it. The next thing I know, there stands dad. He had only gone half way to the end instead of all the way because he was tired of walking.

I knew the sounds I heard were a deer. I can't even describe how positive I was. The shock of the potential of my being wrong in that situation has never left me, almost 20 years later. It still gives me chills.
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