By Steve Johnson
It was a late, cold, snow-covered Friday afternoon the 2nd weekend in December, and a group of hunters with varying abilities along with their mentors, gathered for the last deer hunt of the season. The managed hunt took place in the steep coulees of Vernon County, and the hunt sponsor asked that the 10 hunters with their mentors start a day early as there was a severe snowstorm making its way toward the Coulee Region with forecasts predicting up to 10 inches of snow. Now, I don’t consider myself a wuss, but hunting in December has it’s pluses and minuses with the latter being the potential for brutal cold, and that’s exactly what we were going to face those cold mornings and late afternoons.
This was actually my 3rd deer hunt this year, and my goal for my entire life, has been to harvest a “braggin’ buck.” After I lost my sight in 1986, I never dreamed that I would ever be able to deer hunt again, but through legislation passed in 2003 by the state of Wisconsin, this law allowed legally blind hunters who possessed a DNR-issued Class-C disabled hunting permit, to use a laser sighting device to harvest game with a firearm or bow/crossbow. The concept is that the assistant, which is required under this law, can direct the hunter onto the target as they are holding the weapon, allowing the legally blind hunter to independently maneuver the weapon.
My hunting partner and I managed to get out to the pop-up hunting tent by about 3:15 on that Friday afternoon which gave us only about 1.5 hours to hunt. Fortunately, I had a one pound propane heater which really helped to cut the chill. We got settled in, lit the heater, and nestled against a steep hill. We could see up and down the old approximately 8 foot wide logging trail, down into the gully, and up onto the ridgetops. It was a quiet evening, and after a hard day of work for the both of us, the warmth of the tent gave us that tryptophan effect as we struggled to keep our eyes open.
Did you hear that I whispered to Randy? Yep, it’s a lone turkey making its way up the hillside, scratching for acorns or whatever other snow-covered morsels it might find. As we watched it crest the top of the hill to the front and right of us, the turkey disappeared, and the dense woods quickly became silent once again. A few minutes later, we both said, did you hear that? It was a slow, crunch, crunch, pause, and then crunch. He whispered, yes, but I can’t see anything. We continued to hear this same sound for the next hour, and still couldn’t see whatever it was, but were convinced something was out there. We were on high alert as we were losing time and daylight quickly, and knew the season would be ending soon. Suddenly, Randy whispered, I see it, it’s a deer making its way up the deep gulley. A few seconds later, he whispered in an excited voice, I see horns! We estimated this deer to be at least 150 yards out, but the hills and valleys can be deceiving, so this was a guess at best. The buck, which we still couldn’t tell much about, slowly made his way up the hill toward the logging road in front of us. Randy excitedly whispered, he is going to cross the logging road, and when he does, we are going to take a shot. He said, shoulder your gun, and get ready!
I use a Remington .270 semi-automatic rifle mounted with a high-power military green laser sight. The key to using such a device is to make sure it is kept warm otherwise the green laser will fail; chalk that one up for experience! So, I had brilliantly taken a fresh hand warmer, and put it in an old wool sock as the warmers need to breathe, and put it snuggly over the laser like a mitten, so when the time came, all I would need to do is gently pull the sock off. Now that time was here! Randy and I have hunted previously with much success, so we were comfortable with my shooting style, and he knew how to quickly get me on the intended target. Randy would tell me to turn on the laser, which is operated by a tiny mouse-like switch, and almost simultaneously he would have me click my gun’s safety off.
The buck started to break the woods line, and cautiously entered onto the logging road. We quickly got the laser sight on the buck, and Randy whispered, now! The thunderous kaboom of the .270 echoed throughout the hills and valleys, and we weren’t sure if he was ours or not. We let the woods settle down for about 5 minutes or so, and as we quietly talked about what might have just happened, we both agreed that we thought we heard him run off; crap!
As I stayed back in the hunting blind, Randy slowly made his way up the logging trail through the 2 or so inches of snow, and I waited for some confirmation. Nothing. Then he suddenly let out a woot! He came back to the pop-up tent, and said he’s a beast! He’s a 7-pointer, but one of the biggest bodies he had ever seen on a deer. He said he was graying, and probably on the downside of his life, and had managed to survive through at least the previous 5 seasons or more of deer hunting in Wisconsin.
After tagging the buck, we made our way back to camp to get some help as we were definitely going to need it. We drove the Kawasaki Mule to the spot where the buck laid, and had to winch the buck to the logging road as he had actually slipped about 30 yards back down the hill, and there was no way the 3 of us would be able to pull him up onto the logging road. The wise old 7-point buck measured an amazing 20-inch inside spread, and the estimated dressed weight had to be close to 250 pounds! It took everything we had for the 3 of us to eventually lift this monster onto the Mule!
After sitting back, and realizing the magical beauty of this animal and moment, it suddenly dawned on me that he was indeed that wise old buck that I had dreamt about harvesting for the past 40 years; yep, he was finally that braggin buck!