The Fall & Rise of a Hunter

Today’s article was written by my good friend, hunting partner, and now guest contributor for Transition Wild, Joe Wilson. This is a story that many deer hunters can relate to where things don’t quite go as planned and you’re left starting back at square one. Through the many highs and lows that are associated with whitetail deer hunting, it is important to reflect on the lessons learned and to appreciate the time spent afield no matter what the outcome. Enjoy! – AP

By Joe Wilson

Yesterday I watched the biggest buck I have ever seen in Michigan hit the dirt. The only problem was I wasn’t the one who fired the shot. A neighboring hunter sitting 20 yards from the corner post of his property line shot him as he was headed towards our property. He piled up 100 yards in front of me in a swamp, although I didn’t know it was him at the time. As I sat waiting for word from the property owner on who shot the deer and when they were coming to track, I see blaze orange moving through the swamp. As I confront the trespassing hunters (it is illegal in Michigan to track a deer on neighboring properties without permission), I take a look down to see the monarch laying in a sled. Needless to say, it was a tough way for my story with this buck to end.

I have watched this buck through three years of trail camera pictures. This year he sported a 12 point typical frame that will likely score in the mid 150’s. In my area of Michigan where it’s a small miracle for a buck to live to be 2 ½ years old, he was a once-in-lifetime kind of buck. To me he might as well had been a unicorn.  He showed up on trail cameras consistently (at night) and was seen on multiple occasions by the property owner at night. It was obvious I was hunting near his core area but could not catch up with him in daylight. I spent most of my vacation days dogged by hot weather in search of his whereabouts with no sightings. The only glimmer of hope being a daylight trail camera photo on the same morning I was hunting the other side of the property. As gun season started, I knew the chances of him being killed were considerable but I hoped he would stick to his core area that had kept him alive. The rut combined with a strong cold front the night before the morning he was shot proved to be this deer’s undoing.

Big Michigan Buck
One of the many trail camera pictures of the big 12.

I know this wasn’t “my buck” and everyone had as much of a right/chance to shoot him as me. The point I want to make is that I believe in this age of trail cameras, it’s becoming an almost universal feeling to have your target buck killed, most of the time not by you. There are many serious hunters that can relate to the disappointing feeling of putting (literally) hundreds of hours into food plots, habitat work, shooting, scouting, and sitting on stand only to come up short. I believe most of us don’t have a “hit list” of bucks with weird names. For me, he was it. Suddenly the woods seems empty. You don’t feel like hunting. I didn’t feel like doing anything. So what do you do now?

November Michigan Sunset
The natural beauty of a November sunset that any hunter can appreciate.

I did the only thing I know to make myself feel better; I went hunting. Sure, it wasn’t quite the same knowing I didn’t have any real chance of shooting a mature buck but sometimes it takes a disappointment to remind yourself why you hunt in the first place (Cliché, I know, but true). For me it’s being a part of the world many have forgotten about; the natural world. Where the only clock is the rise and fall of the sun. Where the brutal north wind stings your face but does nothing to vanquish the smile that covers it. One where the sounds of the wind in the trees is all you hear as another day comes to an end punctuated by the multitude of colors from a fall sunset. I was reminded again of all of this tonight and as the sun set, I looked up at silhouetted trees on a ridge swaying back and forth in the fading light and thought to myself, “what a beautiful evening.” I may not have accomplished my goal for the year but I had found my passion again. I also came to the conclusion that there are a couple absolutes in life:

  1. Things aren’t always going to work out in your favor, no matter how hard you work but this shouldn’t stop you from trying.
  2. It will end. Both your hunting season and life itself.

So instead of sitting around my house moping and waiting for next year, I am choosing to push on. This season is not yet lost. The thing I have found about hunting that keeps us coming back, even when we’re down, is that you never know what your next sit will bring.

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