Best Day or Just Luck – a Deer Hunt

The culmination of a successful deer hunt.

“According to Field & Stream magazine, this is the best day of the season to be deer hunting,” I said to my friend, John Jacobson, as I stashed lunch, rifle, binoculars, and such in his truck.

The day was November 10, and, indeed, the annual deer hunting issue with tips on the best days to be hunting deer listed November 10 as the best day to be out. The blurb said, ”We’re teetering close to peak breeding season across much of the nation, and buck activity will be stellar today…today is the day.”

I often chuckle when the magazine proclaims which are the best days for hunting—nationwide. It always strikes me that there are too many variables to make predictions, formulated in advance to meet press deadlines long before the magazine actually shows up in mailboxes or newsstands.

There are lots of theories about when are the best times for outdoor ventures, including the famous Solunar tables, first devised by John Alden Knight, using time of day, and phases of the moon and tides. Knight published his first Solunar table in 1936, and, for years, Field & Stream regularly published the Solunar tables and Ed Zern, the magazine’s longtime humor writer, often poked fun at the Solunar tables in his columns.

In practicality, most of us don’t plan our outings based on magazine predictions or Solunar tables. We go when we can get away, or when we get invited to go out, or when the weather is tolerable, or when our spouses tell us, “For Pete’s sakes, go hunting or something—just get out of my hair for a day.”

In any event, this year, for probably the first time ever, I was going to be looking for a deer on what Field & Stream said was THE day to be out there.

Indeed, as we got to the southwest Montana ranch we were hunting, we could see deer running across the valley. They were perfectly safe, as I wasn’t ready for doing any shooting in the pre-dawn dim light.

As it got brighter, and we moved around the ranch a bit, we started seeing deer moving, and looking through binoculars we could spot antlers on some of them. Antlers aren’t a big deal as far as I’m concerned. When I hunt deer I’m looking for venison in the freezer. Still, things being what they are, it’s hard to not look at antlers.

So, we were spotting deer, but nothing in range. We looked at a nice buck standing and looking at us from around 450 yards—out of my shooting range. I spotted a small buck moving through a line of brush, but it disappeared while I had to answer a call of nature.

Every once in a while, John would laugh and ask, “Was that December 10?”

I responded, “No, November 10—but maybe it was Central Time.”

In early afternoon we were driving up a hillside where deer often hide out during the day. I saw something in the bottom of a draw. “Stop the car,” I said, putting up my binoculars to confirm that the something was a deer with antlers. I stepped out of the truck, found a rest and made a hurried shot, and the hunt was over. The work was just beginning.

A moment of solemn celebration – before we start the heavy work – and it was heavy!

The deer had a perfect spot, in warm sunshine, out of the wind. Why it hadn’t bolted for safety when we came along is a good question. There’s a Native American belief that the animal we’re supposed to harvest will offer him or herself to you, and looking back over many years of hunting, this has been a common thread, in fact probably the only rational reason, for many successful big game hunts.

This year’s Montana general big game season ended at sundown on Sunday, November 26. My season ended on November 10 at 1:30 in the afternoon. Whether we credit Solunar tables or magazine predictions, we again have prime venison in the freezer, for which we give thanks.

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