Bill and his buck
My friend Bill Berghuis invited me to join him for Opening Day of Michigan firearm deer season in his property just outside South Haven in the southwestern part of the state. We met on Thursday afternoon at his condo in the banks of the Black River and immediately drove to his beautiful 68-acre property to scout it a bit, or actually for Bill to show me a couple places I could hunt, as his blind is very well located on the eastern boundary over a gas pipeline, which in reality is a great shooting lane.
Bill was very worried as last year the local deer herd had been devastated by EHD or bluetong disease, and no deer were taken during the 2012 season. As we walked we saw some tracks and even found a buck rub, but the traffic was far less than in the past.
He took me to a beautiful valley formed by a creek in the south end where several large bucks had been bagged in the past. on the way there we spotted a very large flock of turkeys that immediately spotted us and soon disappeared in the under cover. Due to the mature mixed hardwoods the ground was covered with dead leaves and is great squirrel habitat and over the next few days they would be a ever present companion.
We came back to my truck at last light, drove back to South Haven, had Italian food for dinner and spent the next couple hours getting current as we had not met in several months. A bottle of 15-year old Glenfiddich provided all the fuel we needed.
We woke up at 5:00 AM, had breakfast at a local McDonald's (not the healthiest choice, but convenient at that time), and arrived at the property before 6:00 AM. We geared up and walked together to Bill's blind. We wished each other good luck and I started the half mile or so walk to my ridge and on the way I spooked several turkeys on their roost. Due to the absolute darkness I could not located the same spot that Bill had shown me, but I found a good spot and put my stool close to a deadfall and used my camouflage net to brake my profile.
It is amazing what the early twilight will do to a deer hunter imagination. As light starts to defeat darkness, every leaf still hanging against the desires of fall shines just like whitetail's eyes, and every dead branch becomes a polished antler. Call it illusion or delusion, but at the brief moments of daw's first light a hunter feels completely alive, every fiber of his body tense, and the soul fulfilled by the primeval predator desire to strike upon its prey. At dusk, a similar process happens when dusk sets in, but, at least for me, it is not as intense.
Over the next several hours I saw squirrels, black squirrels, red squirrels and even chipmunks. I also saw several crows and a very large, and now out of season, tom turkey. Close to 10:00 AM Bill texted that he was coming my way and that I should be aware for deer movement, but nothing moved.
We went back to the condo and enjoyed two hours of great sleep, and after that had lunch at Clementine's, a great local restaurant. Before going back we stopped at one of my favorite places, Black River Books.
In the afternoon I decided to hunt the trail that cuts the property east-west just north of the swamp that divides it in two. This gave me a good shooting lane, at least ninety yards each way, and swamp really looked like a place where deer would be bedded for the day and coming out at dusk, but Bill mentioned that the only reason I selected the place was because it was a much shorter walk that the ridge overlooking the valley.
Again my company was made of squirrels, two very nice tom turkeys, crows and a sparrow hawk. Sunset was gorgeously red and a large flight of Canada geese provided the music to complement it.
Bill's flashlight marked the path from his blind to my unsuccessful ambush, and although a bit discouraged by the lack of deer he commented that next morning, if not better, could not be any worse. We got back to the condo, had some more lively conversation and went out for some good burgers.
The beginning of Opening Day plus one, Saturday, November 16th, was pretty much the same. When we got to the property we waited for a couple minutes for Joe Rix, son of our friend Terry, and then all of us walked to Bill's blind and from there Joe and I took our own paths. The only difference for me is that I did not spook the turkeys on my way to the ridge.
At around 8:30 AM I got a text from Bill that he had shot at a deer, probably antlerless, but was not sure if had hit it. I kept my hopeful and solitary vigil and at around 9:30 I heard another shot from Bill's direction and shortly afterwards got a text with the picture of a marvelous ten point buck peacefully laying on the fall leaves.
We talked on the phone and Bill told that he had also found a blood trail from the first deer he shot, so I packed my gear and joined him to track that animal. And then we tracked it, sometimes with a great blood trail, others spending long times looking for that illusive flash of bright red blood. We stayed as blood hounds, without the benefit of sent, tracking the blood trail, trying to identify the spoor on the carpet of dead fall leaves, and after almost two hours and half a mile later we completely lost the trail on the edges of bad looking and very wet swamp. We were both disappointed, as no true hunter readily accepts the loss of a wounded animal, but at that point there was nothing we could do.
We came back to where the ten point buck rested, loaded it in my truck and drove to the barn where I gutted it, so Bill would not strain his back (you know, older guys are smart enough to take advantage of age and con younger man in doing the hard work for them).
In order to close this story I need to tell you two things: first, Bill made a perfect heart shot and the big buck did not run more than forth yards from where he was hit; and second, Bill told me his secret for attracting big bucks: he put lip stick on in the morning so he would be more attractive to the bucks in rut!