By: Crystal Cockman
As I sit in a deer stand on a cold, early morning on one of the last few days of this year’s season, I realize I’ve not my written any articles about deer hunting this year, and as something I do a lot of and find great joy in, I’d like to take a minute and reflect. I think perhaps my lack of focus on writing about deer season this year may come partially because I am now in my fifth year of deer hunting, which I know still makes me a rookie in comparison with most folks, but I feel each year that I’ve learned more and more, and I’ve written about a lot of the lessons I’ve learned already, and the experiences I’ve had. But truly every season has its own special stories to share, and this has been no exception.
One thing that never ceases to amaze me is truly how often I see some interesting critter when I hunt, other than the deer of course. This year that included raccoons for the first time. I had a big boar raccoon come right to the base of my tree stand during muzzleloader season, before I finally made some noise to alert him to my presence and we locked eyes briefly before he rushed off. One fun early season hunt, I arrived to my stand to find a 3-point deer bedded down in some privet by the branch, and watched him for more and an hour just lay there and snack on it, until a family of three raccoons startled him and he roused himself and sauntered off. That same evening I got a nice 2.5 year old six point just minutes before shooting time was up (my new scope paying off), which was the biggest antlered buck I took this year. This year also included spotting coyotes for the first time, a pair of grey foxes, and nine wild turkeys on two different occasions.
One of the most exciting sightings this year was on my way to hunt. On a rural Moore county road just a few miles from my grandmas, I notice a huge bird of prey on the side of the road and immediately did a double take and thought to myself “wait, that’s no hawk.” I turn around and expect it to be gone, but fortunately it is still there and I happen to have my good camera, and I get four great shots of a beautiful bald eagle. The closest body of water is Bear Creek, which is not too big at this point, so I’m surprised to see him there. I’d made no less than three trips to Falls Reservoir this summer hoping to get a picture of a bald eagle, and it was so fitting that in the end he came to me when I least expected to see him.
Every year for the past three years I’ve had success on a Christmas Eve hunt. This year I was hunting alone in Moore County and my hunting buddies were in Montgomery. It had been pouring rain the day before and the branch where I was hunting was really up with high and fast water. I was watching a bat acrobatically flying around in my shooting lane devouring moths. While enjoying his display through my binos, I happened to catch a glimpse of two deer slip through the far end of the lane, the first one a big bodied buck, and a doe behind him. I could have gotten a shot at her but it was a little far, and I thought they might make their way down to my corn. Then it was a waiting game to see if they’d come out before legal shooting hours were over. They did. He came first, a nice sized two and a half year old deer, and I made the shot. My buddies came to help me track it, and it had not gone a long way, but it twisted and turned uphill and down through the thick mountain laurel. We finally found it, and we drug it down and got close to the branch and it was so steep, we let it go, but quickly realized the branch was up higher than we thought and had to dive in after it to recover it. We were all cold and soaked by the end, but it was another great adventure and story to remember for years to come.
I like to think that I have matured as a hunter somewhat, and don’t make quite as many rookie mistakes anymore. After taking my first large buck last year, I felt no pressure this year in that regard, and was happy to let a lot of nice deer go, and satisfied with whatever I got to see. Four days after using my let buck tag I saw a nice 8-point, but maybe he will be even better next year. That’s the promise of each new hunt, new season, and New Year - more opportunities to share experiences and memories and enjoy the great outdoors.