By Nick Simonson
There was nothing subtle about the way the buck came into the cut bean field where the growing herd of does and fawns were working diligently, heads down, to scrape up the remnants of a harvest from two months ago. He charged the nearest one like the intoxicated BMOC hitting on a cheerleader at the local watering hole in any small university town on a Friday night. Apparently, he used the wrong line, and she scampered off to the far edge of the sloping hill which led down to my vantage point in the draw of the northeast corner. His body looming larger than any of the biggest does in the group was the first sign that I’d have an opportunity to fill my tag. As he lifted his head, I caught the faint glint of white at nearly 600 yards, which confirmed it. I steadied my gun on my monopod and dialed my scope all the way up to nine to get a better look.
Clearly, he was an antlered deer, huge everywhere behind his neck which had swollen with the growing rut conditions. He wasn’t the monster four-by-four which ran fur-scrapingly close along the barbwire fence to my north and divided the property I hunt from the neighbor’s, but he’d do fine with just a couple of days remaining in the firearms season – if only I could get him to come through the herd of does and provide a shot at my comfort level. Keeping one eye on the action, I slowly felt my way with my off hand through the hip pack tucked into my field bag and found the black nylon string and tugged, freeing my grunt call from its zippered storage.
I blew on it like a midnight party favor at a New Year’s Eve bash, loud enough so he could’ve heard it a couple sections away, but not so hard as to overpower the reeds inside the wood-and-plastic tube. His head snapped up from the ground and I watched his surprised reaction as he stared in my direction, taking a stutter-step down the incline as he glared. He progressed until he reached the next mature doe and her fawn, and quickly lost interest in the mysterious challenger somewhere down in the brush and rocks of the far-away hillside. He rumbled off after the mother deer, steam pouring out from his nose in the fading afternoon light and she evaded his advancements as her fawn split off and ran back toward the middle of the feeding area.
I again grunted at him, lowering the volume slightly, but keeping the notes brief and challenging, and he quickly tore away from his pursuit and cut the distance to 350 yards or so, slowing his sprint to a moderate step and angling toward the grassy stretch of drain between us at the end of the harvested field. There, along the boundary of the farmland sat a group of four does, two older and two younger, working the space where they had come through earlier in the day and were later chased out by the area’s bruiser along the adjacent pastureland. I figured if I could continue to get the buck to work toward them, and then clear, I might have a shot to tag out, with light to field dress him nonetheless.
Each time he lost interest, or looked like he was considering going back for the second doe which was resetting in her preferred feeding space, I put out a grunt and he’d reverse course in my direction. A final three-tone set brought him just behind the antlerless deer foraging on the edge of the field, right around the 220 yard mark, and he promptly ran after the first one, forcing her through the grass and down into the reeds at the start of the draw. With his advance spurned, he rotated back and ran after the other remaining mature doe and she scampered away. He stood alone in the low grass at the start of the drain, with a 10-yard buffer in all directions and the rise of black dirt beyond him, head down sniffing the trail of the last doe.
Beginning to shake, I steadied my left hand at the junction of the forearm of the black rifle and the camouflage Y of the monopod braced against the ground in front of boulder on which I sat. I tucked the grunt call into the corner of my mouth, like some well-chewed stogie that the hero in a 1980s action movie always seems to have at his disposal, and I put my right eye behind the reticle. I blew a single grunt from the tube and spit the call out, watching the deer snap his head up in my scope and stare angrily down the draw at my spot on the hill. With a perfect broadside opportunity at the rigid buck, the small valley echoed with the boom and he reared up on his hind legs before toppling sideways into the field, spinning once in the dirt and coming to stillness as the white flags around him bounded off in all directions, clearing the area for my approach.
I patted him softly on his large neck, whispered Ecclesiastes, affixed my tag to his antler and set to work on getting back to the truck with everything tucked away haphazardly in my day pack, save for the worn wood and expandable plastic tube which bounced proudly off my chest like a medal as I rolled the heavy game cart back over the rise. The call had served its purpose well this particular day, drawing my quarry down through the herd of does and right to the edge of my comfort range for an ideal shot and the conclusion of a most memorable hunt…in our outdoors.
Featured Photo: Venison Calling. The author tagged this 4×3 whitetail buck after calling him down through a number of does on the final Friday of North Dakota’s firearms deer season. Simonson Photo.