Whitetail Season Opening Weekend 2019

While lots of mistakes were made and lessons learned, a few deer were harvested and lifelong memories were made.

What a weekend it was! The weather was great. The wildlife activity, including whitetail activity, was phenomenal. The weekend also offered the opportunity to learn a few new things.

The weekend hunt consisted of a a morning and evening hunt on opening day, which was a Saturday, and a morning hunt on Sunday. I fired a total of six shots across all three outings. Four shots during the first hunt, two in the evening, and none on the following morning. Three of six were hits. Two of the hits yielded a harvest. The one hit that didn’t yield a harvest resulted in a lengthy tracking exercise.

Saturday Morning

The first hunt was full of activity. Right at sunrise, I saw a coyote walking across the field I was hunting. This led me to believe I would see very little activity during the hunt, but I was wrong. About half an hour later a couple of young bucks started hanging around the feeder. They were too young and looked to have the potential to grow into some nice bucks. Given that I was really looking for deer to fill the freezer and I was asked to avoid harvesting bucks, I let them pass.

A few minutes later, on the far left of the field I noticed what appeared to be several does hanging around. I used the Vortex Fury HD range finding binoculars I reviewed recently to get a distance and confirm the gender. They did in fact look like does about 225 to 250 yards away from me. I took a moment with the Shooter ballistics calculator app on my mobile phone to confirm my hold over. With the hold over known, I shouldered the new deer hunting rifle loaded with Hornady Precision Hunter ammunition and got ready to take a shot on the largest doe of the group.

Just like my previous three hunts, my heart began to race. The excitement swelled up within. I’ve been told this is what is referred to as “buck fever”. Regardless of what it’s called, the cross hairs were all over the place. I started taking long deep breaths to calm myself as I adjusted my shooting position in the blind to maximize stability. The calming process was slower than the last hunt and I suspect it had to do with the fact that I was well aware this was going to be the longest shot I’ve taken on a deer to date. As I calmed down and the cross hairs steadied, my confidence rose. With a perfect broadside presentation and my crosshairs steady a little above (due to the hold over) and behind the shoulder, I squeezed the trigger. The deer turned away from me, took a few steps as it started to run and dropped. The shot was a clean vital zone hit.

A couple of the remaining deer took off into the brush and tree line, but a few remained. They looked around confused for a bit and went back to grazing. I picked another deer – the larger of the remaining deer. With a new round already chambered, I placed the scope’s crosshairs on it. Again the excitement grew and I resumed the long deep breathing that worked earlier. It didn’t take long before the crosshairs were steady again slightly above and behind the shoulders of the second target. I squeezed the trigger and watched the deer sprint forward about ten yards before dropping to the ground. It was a second clean vital zone wound.

Another couple of deer scattered, but one remained. This one a bit further out than the previous shots at around 260 yards. I began thinking this hunt was going to be short one. It was barely an hour after sunrise and I was about to take a shot on the third deer of the weekend. My confidence with these longer shots was also growing. I took a minute to check the ballistics calculator with the increased distance and then got back behind the rifle. I adjusted the hold over slightly and steadied the cross hairs. I squeezed the trigger. I knew immediately I had pulled the shot. I saw it hit low while I was working the bolt for a follow up shot. However, the deer was moving away from me and to the right quickly. With a mixture of disgust and disappointment in myself and pity for the wounded deer, I did all I could to lead the deer with the crosshairs. The was no time to calm myself and steady the crosshairs. As the deer was approaching the tree line, I took the follow up shot. I saw the shot hit low in the dirt. The deer changed direction slightly and ran into the brush and out of sight.

I feel horrible about the bad hit. I absolutely hate the fact I wounded an animal. Looking back, I’m fairly certain I underestimated the rate of the increasing distance for the follow up shot. There was very little time to think, let alone analyze the position and rate of movement of the moving target.

At any rate, after tagging the two downed deer my hunting buddies helped me find the blood trail. We tracked it through some really thick brush for about half an hour before we lost the trail. We spent another hour looking for additional blood or other signs from where we found the last evidence of trail but couldn’t find anything. This is a first for me and I will do everything that I can to improve so it will hopefully be my last.

Between the Saturday Hunts

The late morning and early afternoon were spent cleaning, skinning, and quartering three deer. Two of which were mine and one belonged to one of the two hunting buddies I was with. While my buddies helped, I took lead with my deer (which turned out to be spikes again).

The property owner, who happens to be the uncle of one of my hunting buddies, was present and offered me some advice as he saw me struggle when I started to clean the first of the two deer. Welcoming his advice, he took my knife and demonstrated how to cut around the anus. He then began to show me how to start removing the gut sack. I was watching intently with my face close to the deer as he accidentally cut into sack; spraying my face with the foulest smelling substances that clung to my beard. While I didn’t vomit, I doubt I will be forgetting that moment anytime soon.

I took a couple of things away from cleaning, skinning, and quartering:

  • Sharp knives are important. Investing on a knife made with steel that has good edge retention isn’t a bad idea. The Buck Knives Open Season Skinner I used was a work horse that I will have to do a review on in the near future.
  • Gut hooks help. A lot. While not required, a good gut hook makes starting the cleaning and skinning process quick and easy. Again, the Buck Knives Open Season Skinner shined like a champ.
  • Even with gloves on, it’s a good idea to remove your watch during the process unless you don’t mind getting it covered in blood.
  • A game hoist is another non-essential but great investment to help with the cleaning, skinning, and quartering process.

On a side note, I’m happy to report that every piece of must have equipment I suggested previously was indeed used on opening weekend. Most everything with the exception of emergency survival equipment (sidearm, IFAK, extra food, and extra water) I suggested in the should have equipment list was also used. The only items from the could have equipment list used were the cut resistant gloves and the game hoist.

Saturday Evening

Saturday evening provided less wildlife activity. I was in a blind on a different field.

Towards the later part of the evening, a couple of deer showed up near the far tree line which was about 350 yards away at the furthest point. The range finding binoculars put the deer at about 320 yards away. I checked the ballistics calculator for the hold over and hesitated grabbing my rifle. Given the bad hit in the morning at a closer distance, I wasn’t confident. So I watched the deer for some time instead.

After a while, the deer remained and sunset approached. I decided I would give it a try. I knew, after all, that if I took my time and didn’t pull my shot, I would hit my target. I shouldered my rifle. Slowly, I found a steady shooting position. With slow deep breaths, I steadied the crosshairs. Little by little I squeezed the trigger until it broke. Nothing. Both deer stared back towards me as if they were looking for the source of the sound they just heard. I was dumbfounded. The shot was good. The hold was good. There was no wind to concern myself with.

Not wanting to the deer to run and miss the opportunity, I started squeezing the trigger on a fresh round I had already loaded. I continued to gradually squeeze the trigger until another shot broke. Again the deer looked up. I swear they were as dumbfounded as I was. I was certain I did my part.

I set the safety on the rifle and set it down. Raised the range finding binoculars again and took another distance reading. The reading was 173 yards. But the deer hadn’t moved. I took another ready. The reading now read 260-something yards (I don’t recall exactly). What in the world? How could that be? I engaged range scanning mode and moved the rangefinder cross hairs just below the deer waited for a reading, scanned up to reach the deer and waited for a ready, then above the deer and waited for another reading. As I saw the reading change from about 200, to 260, to 320, to 350, and back. I realized that my initial reading was bad. I had initially read the distance of the grass behind (or above in a two dimensional sense) the deer.

I didn’t take any additional shots. In stead, I continued to watch the two deer graze as I thought about the lesson here. I relied too much in my equipment that I hadn’t bothered to estimate the distance any other way. I had shot clear over the deer into the tree line. Twice. I made lot’s of mistakes during this hunting trip. I realized I still have a lot to learn. All the fancy equipment is worthless, if one doesn’t know what they are doing.

Nobody harvested any game that evening.

Sunday Morning

One of the hunters I was with still hadn’t harvested a deer and we decided to go back out again. I wasn’t certain I was going to take another shot given the realization of all the mistakes made the day before, but decided to gear up and go out anyway. At the very least, I could make additional use of my equipment and think through the previous day again in an effort to figure out what to work on before the next hunting trip.

On the way to blind in the dark, I heard some rustling in the brush to my left while the blind was still 200 yards away. I brought up my flashlight and noticed a small wild hog scurrying away from me. I followed it with the light until the light was on the feeder where I saw several hogs mowing down corn that the feeder had dispensed too early. I took my sidearm out just in case any hogs decided to charge me. There was maybe 25 yards of space, a fence, and a bit of small brush between the hogs and me. I got to the blind and put some of the gear down before working my way back in attempt to dispense some of the hogs. After all, hogs are a destructive nuisance and the property owner asked us to dispatch them if we ran into them. But by the time I got close enough to see the feeder in the dark the hogs were all gone.

I settled into the blind and waited for sunrise.

The morning presented several dozen turkeys early on. They were fun to watch and to listen to. I used my mobile phone to learn more about turkey hunting laws in Texas and learned they are in season, but may only be hunted with a shotgun. While I had tags for them, I didn’t have a shotgun so they were safe from me.

A while later a few young bucks showed up near the far tree line. I confirmed their distance to be about 320 yards with the range finding binoculars. It was fun watching them lock antlers and wrestle each other.

A couple of red tailed hawks (or at least that’s what I think they were) flew over the field, landed for a bit, and flew again. They spent some time in flight over the field in a manner that appeared to be part of an intricate dance. Perhaps it was a courting thing, but I’m only speculating as I know very little about them. It was majestic.

A couple of hours past sunrise the other hunters called it. As soon as they did a doe appeared out of the brush on my right no more than 50 yards in front of me and started walking towards the blind. It almost seemed like was walking directly at me. I did shoulder my rifle and I watched the doe through the scope as she proceeded to approach me. She stopped about 20 yards directly in front of me when she turned to my right in perfect broadside. I aimed. Placed my finger on the trigger. At the same moment when decided to begin squeezing the trigger, she darted back in the brush to the left and was out of sight. Oh well, maybe next time.

Packed up we called it a day and headed home.


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