As I sit here today watching the snow fall and experiencing bitter cold every time I go outside to get wood or anything else, I can’t help but to think of better times and more pleasant weather. Typically I spend ten months out of the year waiting for October and November when the whitetail rut begins with pre-rut activity. Though I am a hard core bowhunter who knows that the cooler days October and the beginning of autumn will stimulate buck activity in a big way, I eventually decided to partake in the early muzzleloader deer hunt in my home state of Arkansas.
It always aggravated me that the early statewide black powder deer hunt was put into motion by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. I know that bowhunters are a smaller part of the hunter equation and the greater majority are being catered to but it was still a sore spot with me for a long time. So, I decided to get into black powder guns and hunting and I am glad I did.
To me hunting with a muzzleloader is like bowhunting with a .30-06, but I have learned to enjoy it and have taken some of my best bucks during this hunt like the big ten pointer that was trailing a little doe near a spring fed pond in a secluded little valley in North Arkansas on a frosty October morning.
The flicker of a white tail caught me by surprise. It was mid morning, the awesome display of autumn colors were highlighted by the bright morning sun in the clear blue sky and the sun had melted most of the frost on the ground and trees along with burning away the foggy mist that had been lingering over the secluded spring fed pond in the beautiful small valley.
The willow and cedar trees around the small pond had been rubbed by something big and aggressive. They were the most impressive cluster of rubs that I have ever seen in North Arkansas. I could only hope that the rub maker was active today maybe seeking a doe nearing estrous.
As I turned my eyes slightly to the right, I saw a young doe with her tail erect and leaning to the side. As she pranced across the grassy opening past my stand, I thought maybe she was upset about the three longbeards who had been entertaining me for the last half hour. I then saw another doe, this one an older doe coming down the trail.
Instantly I realized that the young doe was cranked and ready to dance. I knew without looking back down the trail that there would be a buck bringing up the rear. In a few seconds I slowly turned my head slightly to the right and saw a dark colored deer with heavy antlers. I could see three long tines rising up off the main beam on the left side. ‘Big ten pointer’ I thought as I remained statue still in my stand.
I didn’t dare move because I was highlighted by the sun, and though I was well camouflaged I was sure the deer would see me if I moved. I waited patiently as the big buck passed my stand. For whatever reason the buck decided to run across the opening instead of walking and as he did I shifted around and found him in the scope. He stopped twenty yards short of the little doe and turned broadsided to me.
Instinctively I put the crosshairs low behind his shoulder and pressed the trigger. Gray smoke filled the little valley as the buck made his final run to the edge of the timber then tumbled backwards back into the opening on the steep hillside.
As I walked to where the beautiful buck had fallen the little doe bounded a few yards then stopped, not understanding why the handsome buck was no longer following her to the safety of the forest a few yards away. She never left until I drove my truck to where I could load the four-year-old, heavy-horned, rut-swollen buck.
I kneeled by the beautiful buck’s side and thanked him for his beauty and for being one of the most majestic of God’s creatures and told him I was sorry that this was the way of life and death that had been put into motion many centuries ago. If I were more than a mortal man I would have told the buck to get up and go enjoy his time with the little doe, but that is not the way it goes. We have been made stewards of the land and controlling and harvesting animals is a part of that stewardship.
The falling snow will melt eventually and the temperatures will soar bringing with them the flowers of spring, turkey season, the spawning of bass, crappie, bluegill and other wonderful things for us to enjoy but right now it is cold!
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