Let me back up a little. I had selected the timing for this particular hunt based on a book called "Strategies for Whitetails," by Charles J. Alsheimer. In that book, the author provides compelling proof that he and others have devised a way to predict the rut, and I was going to put this info to the test. So, even though it was several weeks into the season, we decided to gamble a week's vacation that the rut would be reaching just the right phase during our hunt.
Bad Weather Beginnings
A good number of deer had already been taken on the property we were hunting, so we began at something of a disadvantage, numbers-wise. And it didn't help that we arrived at the tail end of some unseasonably warm weather, and were dripping with sweat after we finished unloading our gear around midnight on Friday night. But this was going to be our best chance for a good hunt that year, so we faithfully got ourselves out of bed just after 5:00 the next morning.
It was still warm, and not long after daylight a strong south wind began to pummel us, along with waves of driving rain. The rain didn't last too long, the wind soon shifted to the west, and the temperature began to drop. Richard caught a glimpse of a nice buck, and I had a pretty good look at a small one, and that was our first morning's hunt.
From there, things went downhill. I couldn't buy a look at a deer for the next few days. Richard had a nice doe strike a pose in front of him, but visions of the big buck and the rut kept dancing in his head, and he let her live, in hopes that she would help lure an amorous buck into the area. He would kick himself repeatedly for this decision in the days to come, because that would be his only chance at a legal deer during his two-week stay on the property.
The weather - yuck. Low temps in the 30s, highs in the 40s, and windy all day and all night. Not only bone-chilling for this Florida boy, but disheartening as well. No chance of hearing a critter that might slip by your stand, and with all the trees and brush whipping around in the breeze, it's a lot harder to spot movement.
Finally, Some Action
Still, just before dark on Monday evening, a doe stepped into the small food plot I was hunting. I had a hankering to try to take a deer using Dad's old scoped 44 magnum Dan Wesson revolver, so that's what I had in my hand when she stepped out. As I eased the gun into position, a voice inside my head commanded, "Use your rifle!" And because I sometimes ignore my better instincts, I ignored that voice. The next thing I did was miss the deer.
Naturally, I didn't know for sure whether I had missed or not, but all signs pointed to a miss. No hair, no blood, and the deer didn't act as if it were hit when it turned around and ran off the way it had come. I headed back to camp to get Richard's help. We returned with better lights, and still found nothing. I was back there the following morning to do some more thorough searching, and again found no sign of a hit, nor of the deer. Sigh.
Way, Way Down
I was feeling down. Way down. It was our first deer hunt at that place since Dad passed away, and after my screw-up, I longed for his helpful advice and good cheer. He always knew just what to say to help pick me up. Also, we had seen bad weather up there plenty of times, but never like this, for this long a time. It would have been a lot easier to live with both of those things, if only we had been seeing more deer.
By dark on Tuesday evening, I had seen a grand total of two deer in the woods, and I had blundered on one of them. Not the best track record in a place that has plenty of deer, and which generally sees relatively light hunting pressure.
Things Get Better
Then, something wonderful happened. Wednesday morning came, and the wind was not blowing. It was considerably colder than previous mornings (20 degrees F), but by golly the wind wasn't howling, nor even stirring. I said a prayer of thanks, pulled on numerous layers of clothing, and headed off to a tripod stand which sits on a ridge... a place I had been avoiding during the windy days, in favor of more sheltered locations. A place I had been wanting to hunt ever since we'd arrived.
There are people who don't believe that twenty degrees Fahrenheit is cold. I happen to disagree with that notion. But on the whole, I was considerably more comfortable than I had been on previous warmer-but-windy mornings. And, I was all alone. The other two hunters who'd also been hunting the property had both retreated upon seeing how cold it was.
There's not much I like better than sitting in a deer stand, mostly warm and snug, on a cold, clear, still morning. Especially when the preceding four mornings had all sucked. I was a happy man.
Cold and Frosty
It was plenty cold that morning. When I climbed into the tripod stand, I laid my rifle on the seat while I set my pack on the platform and climbed on in. Some frost from the seat got onto my synthetic rifle stock, and it stayed right there until it finally melted, sometime after 9:00.
And my boots kept freezing to the frost on the expanded-metal platform. Yep, it was plenty cold. I definitely appreciated the HotHands warmers and the neck/face warmer I'd bought the day before.
Dawn broke at 6:40, and I saw the first deer at 6:59.