I carry these deer calls often. The big one is a grunt call that can act like a snort-wheeze in a pinch, and the small one makes fairly good bleats.
Photo © Russ Chastain
In this life, it seems that the lessons you don't forget are the hard ones. Learning something without pain can be done of course, but those things never seem to stick with you quite like the ones that hurt. Not to mention lessons taught to you by wild animals... those are even harder to come by.
It was a warm November morning, the third day of Florida's gun hunting season. The temperature was around 70 degrees, and the sun wasn't up yet, though there was daylight aplenty. I was easing down a firelane between some mature sand pines and younger fifteen-foot trees, my homemade climbing stand strapped to my back, sort of still-hunting while looking for a suitable tree to hang the stand on.
I was pausing often in my walk, looking and listening, just taking it easy. The woods here were quite thick, with impenetrable low scrub oaks, other thick brush, and the occasional palmetto clogging the land between the twisted, limber tall sand pines on my left. The stand of smaller trees to the right was somewhat more open, as the thick canopy of the tightly-packed young pines disallowed much sunlight from reaching the forest floor. During one of my many pauses, I heard something moving around in the thick scrub to the left of the trail.
As I stood listening, I felt the old familiar scrub-hunting frustration I get from being close to game, yet not being able to see any part of it. There wasn't much noise in the brush, and I had about decided that it must be some small critter such as a raccoon, when I heard it grunt.
I freely admit that at the time, my brain was not functioning properly, and the first thing I thought of was a pig. The problem was, of the many animals that one may expect to see in that forest, a pig just ain't on the list. That's about as far as my brain got me in determining what it could be. So what did I do? Well, I grunted back!
What I actually did was belch in the direction of the noise in the brush. Call it a grunt if you wish - the critter obviously did. Because in less than a second, there was suddenly a buck deer standing in the firelane, facing me, at a range of eight to ten feet. Naturally, this caught me by surprise - and I daresay the buck was a bit nonplussed himself.
Proving decisively that human and animal thought processes run at the same speed (or, more accurately, lack of speed), I stared at the buck. The buck stared at me. Approximately an hour later, or more likely a second or so, something clicked in my feeble thinker, and the following was revealed to me: Here I was in the woods hunting for buck deer; here was a buck deer. There was a rifle in my hands; I should use the rifle to shoot the deer.
As you can tell, my thought processes are often anything but eloquent, but they do get the point across. Unfortunately for me, I was too late. The buck's brain had also clicked, but apparently his was much more succinct than mine, because he very eloquently snorted, spun around in the trail, and left, at about the time my rifle-clutching hands were responding to my earlier adrenaline-blurred epiphany. He disappeared in record time; just a few bounds and he was out of sight.
Naturally, by then I was put out. Sensory overload and the pint of adrenaline in my bloodstream had me a bit shaky at best. But my trial was not over, you see. The buck had not been alone in the brush, and when he ran, several other deer started moving through the thicket, parallel with the firelane, following him. Another jolt of adrenaline flooded my system as I realized that there were still deer nearby.
I started slipping along the trail, hoping madly that the buck would do something much more stupid than what I had already witnessed, or that one of the deer in the brush would turn out to be a buck silly enough to show itself to me. No such luck. As I called myself all kinds of ugly names for missing my chance at a buck, I shrugged the stand off my back and hustled down the trail. My reward consisted of a couple glances of fast-moving patches of deer-colored hair as the brush-bound deer crossed the firelane at the point where the buck had left it.