The Morning After Thanksgiving Hunt

Thanksgiving deer hunt

Tyler Kee for TTAG

I’ve written before about getting busted by a doe on a Thanksgiving hunt and watching as one of the best whitetail bucks I’d ever seen ran off at full tilt. Looking back through the archives, I realized that I’d never gotten around to telling the story of the morning after that hunt. Still unsuccessful, but just as fulfilling for a whole different set of reasons.

I’ve been hunting at our family ranch since the day we inked the deal. I went out the night our family signed paperwork with a Q-Beam spotlight and my .22 and managed to bag some possums and some ‘coons.

For many years, there wasn’t a manmade structure out there beyond a few hastily constructed blinds, and the back half of a panel truck that rolled off the assembly line sometime after WWII. Subsequently, my earliest memories of whitetail season include waking up at an absurd hour with my high school hunting buddy and making the drive out to the ranch.

That all changed when I left home for college. My parents were eyeballing retirement and wanted a small place where they could put their heads down over a long weekend. Obviously, I was ecstatic as it meant I could roll out of bed there and go hunt. And for many mornings, that’s exactly what I did.

The morning in question was one of those times when a life I vividly remember crosses paths with dreams I’d always had during those times. Specifically, I rolled over at an ungodly hour to my alarm going off, and then rolled back for a few extra minutes tucked in with my beautiful wife.

I remember waking up alone many mornings at the ranch thinking that one day, I’d be married to a beautiful woman who would understand my need to leave a warm bed to go spend some time in the woods. Here I was living an actual dream the morning after another successful Thanksgiving with my family.

Slowly and quietly, I padded around the room, gathering my gear. I gave my wife a final kiss before I headed out to the truck to retrieve my gun. I sat for a moment admiring my well worn Ruger M77 MK II in .243 Win. It has countless rounds down the barrel, but still manages to hold a tight enough group for my uses.

I had a brief flashback to my parents handing me the printed out piece of paper from the gun store showing my rifle on order with a small note that said, “To those that hunt, from those that eat.” Realizing that this morning was going to be filled with nostalgia, I loaded up with five rounds of those beautiful Barnes TSX bullets.

I made my way back through the house, patting the dog on the head when he awoke briefly. My dad was already out on the porch in the dark, huddled up next to the heater, drinking coffee, and reading the day’s news on his tablet. He’s never hunted a day in his life, but he’s spent many mornings getting up early, alone, and shivered in the darkness to do something that erases the stresses of the daily grind.

He gave me a knowing smile, wished me luck, and told me that I could just as easily hang out on the porch as there was a spike that kept coming up for water at the horse trough each morning.

I gave it a bit of consideration because I knew I’d actually sit and talk with my dad for a few hours and never take a 40 yard chip shot at a clueless yearling. But that big buck from the day before was calling me. The rut was in full swing, and I knew in my soul I’d see him again.

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I politely declined and took off down the big hill off the porch for the short hike to the spot where I’d seen the buck the day before. I picked a spot a ways up that big hill where I could glass the valley below.

Sure enough, shortly after sunrise, I saw a big group of whitetail exactly where I’d seen them the day before. The does and yearlings could peek their heads out above the grass, and the slightly taller bucks could clear theirs spines and heads above the curtain of amber.

Glassing the group, I saw a few does, though none of them were big enough to make me want to flick the safety off on my well worn Ruger.

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Continuing to glass, I saw two bucks and a spike. Both bucks were young, maybe two and a half or so as evidenced by their featherweight body composition, narrow six point antlers, and long snouts. Back when I was dreaming about being a married man, I probably would have popped one of them. But today, they were safe. And I was quickly rewarded for my discretion.

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At some point, fueled by whatever the deer equivalent to testosterone is, one of them decided two things. First, he had a good shot of getting lucky with one of the does. Second, the other similarly-sized buck was the impediment to him reaching his first conclusion.

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Naturally, speed, surprise, and violence of action were the order of the day. And at about that time, the other buck must have reached a very similar conclusion as they both started snorting, and pawing the ground. 

I’ve heard a lot about bucks fighting each other. And I’ve seen some pictures and a video here and there. But you really can’t experience it that way. You have to sit there, digging your heels into the soft dirt, with your fingers on the cold side of “just right” while you watch two large animals crash into each other.

There are moments during the fight when both get locked up tight and, as much as they want to, they can’t relent. But they can’t give up ground either. So they stand, bodies tensed, with muscles quivering, their breath coming ragged and steaming from their nostrils while they wait for the other to finally relent.

At some point, one gets their wind, and twists the other off balance. They disconnect and stand facing each other. They both look over at the does as if to say, “Are you seeing this? I’m doing this for you.”

But at the same time, you can see a moment of clarity try to worm its way through their hormone addled brains as they wonder, “Is this really worth it?” To make sure, they lock up antlers again, albeit with a bit less vigor, and continue their violent dance. There is nothing quite like it.

And then, as quick as they started, they stopped. A much larger, and more mature buck had wandered down from the woods. It was the big one from the day before and he looked even better than I had remembered.

He was moving at a slow trot, following an older doe down the hill on the opposite side of the valley. They were still on my neighbor’s place, but I readied my gun thinking that the sounds of a fight, and a quick-moving doe in front of him might be enough to bring him to my side.

Already, my face felt flushed, I could feel my pulse quicken. He was moving along the fence line in the photo above tracking from left to right. There’s a little spot out of frame to the right where they always seem to jump over and I could see the doe making a beeline for it.

I moved my body around a bit to get oriented with that spot, and used the tree next to me for some support. I checked that I had a firm rest, and double checked the distance. I figured it at about 125 yards or so to the fence making this a very viable shot.

I watched as the doe entered my scope’s field of view on the other side of the fence. She slowed a bit as she reached the spot that the deer regularly use to hop over.

I swung my rifle left and confirmed that the big buck was still following. He’d stopped to see what her next move was with a perfect broadside shot. Unfortunately, he wasn’t on my side, so I swung my rifle back over in time to see the doe jump over. My heart rate quickened even further.

He started to make his way to the same spot when he came to a full stop and looked back up the hill on my neighbor’s side. I followed his gaze to see a much younger doe. A regular Kate Upton in comparison to the Christie Brinkley that had just made her way over to my side.

He raised his nose to test the air and quickly chose to pursue youth over experience. I watched, crestfallen, as I saw the disappearing ass and antlers of my big buck for the second time in as many days.

I sighed and put my gun back on safe. I leaned back into the hill behind me, closed my eyes, and dug my fingers into the cold black dirt. I waited a few breaths, opened my eyes, and looked back up at a crystal clear blue sky.

My warrior bucks from earlier stared at me along with the objects of their affection. I sat back up and watched as they took off at a dead run. I packed my gear and checked my Timex. The digital display told me that if I hustled, I could get at least two cups of coffee worth of conversation in my with dad around the heater before our wives woke up.

comments

  1. avatar uncommon_sense says:

    Tyler’s article reminds us of two important lessons:
    (1) Hunting does not always go the way that we planned.
    (2) Quite often you get to really enjoy something totally unrelated to hunting while you are out in the wilds.

    From my own perspective, Lesson #1 happened this year to my oldest child in the form of an equipment malfunction. The culprit: a defect that caused light primer strikes and enabled what would have been a first buck to escape.

    And Lesson #2 happened to me in the form of wonderful wildlife interactions and sightings. On one deer hunt where I was decked out in camouflage sitting against a tree, an extremely curious/inquisitive ruffed grouse walked up to within five feet of me. And on another deer hunt, I observed for the first and only time in my life a mink or a weasel (I don’t know which it was) working along the forest floor. Finally, on still another deer hunt, I observed a raccoon fast asleep where a large branch left the huge trunk of tree about 40 feet above ground.

    I have spent a lot of time in the wilds camping and hiking. I have never seen anything (while camping/hiking) like I described above while sitting quietly hunting for deer.

    1. avatar I Haz A Question says:

      Little stories like these add to the fabric of the larger hunting experience. Sometimes it’s simply about being outdoors and being part of it all…away from the noise, electronics, and frazzle of life. Just being outside.

  2. avatar Imayeti says:

    Great write up! Thanks for sharing.

  3. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

    Good stuff. If you’ve hunted any length of time you will have stories like this. Most of mine involve my dad and I when I was young, my children when they were young and my friends through the decades. They continue today.

  4. avatar Darkman says:

    On many occasions while hunting. The most enjoyable/memorable/hilarious experience didn’t involve the taking of game. Stories that have lived for decades. Much longer than the memories of the actual harvest of game. As with life the really memorable events occur when we least expect them. I fell asleep sitting at the base of a tree during deer season. When I woke up there was a doe standing about 5 feet away. Looking rather confused. After a few seconds of staring each other. She turned a bolted off into the bush. Thus ending my morning of hunting at that local. That happened more than 25 years ago. I don’t remember if I even got a deer that year. Enjoy the little things. They are what makes life worth living. Keep Your Powder Dry.

  5. avatar Ing says:

    Good stuff. I don’t know if I’ll ever actually go hunting, but stories like this make me think I ought to try just for the experience, whether I get anything or not.

  6. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    Ah. Great story that caused more than one flashback.

    1. avatar RidgeRunner says:

      Same. My wall is well-adorned with nice bucks from 40 years of hunting, I’ve taken the three biggest bucks of my life in my 50s where I now reside (two with bow, one with muzzle), yet the ones that are most memorable are the ones where I came up short. Those are the stories I tell, for the most part. Learned something from all of them.
      That’s not to say I don’t get asked a lot about that wide-racked 14 pointer on my living room wall….

  7. avatar EGB says:

    Mighty nice to have a great writer back in the fold! Happy Thanksgiving to you, Mr. Kee.

  8. avatar Dani in WA says:

    “…whatever the deer equivalent to testosterone is…”

    That would be… testosterone!

    1. avatar ‘liljoe says:

      Lol… nice!

      On an aside, since we can no longer comment on sponsored content.
      With regards to the post before this:
      Couldn’t you do the same thing with that gas key drop in by removing the gas block and tube? Gas would vent up, the bolt would have to be manually cycled?

  9. avatar Ralph says:

    Wonderful!

    More Tyler Kee, please.

  10. avatar Sam Hill says:

    I’m glad no animals were harmed during the making of that great story.

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