Successful Deer Season

A beautiful, big-bodied whitetail deer. The hunt is over and the work is just beginning.

Something not included in last week’s thoughts for Thanksgiving was gratitude for a successful conclusion to this year’s deer season. 

I’m usually not in any hurry to get out for big game hunting. As regular readers have probably observed, to my point of view, hunting outings that don’t involve carrying a shotgun and following a bird dog seem kind of pointless. Still, I like having venison in the freezer and on the dining room table, so most years a day or two of carrying a rifle is part of the season.

That day came a couple weeks ago, when my good friend, retired physician John Jacobson, and I took a drive to a southwestern Montana ranch for a hunting outing, getting there before sunrise.

It didn’t take long to see deer, as we watched some young, antlerless deer scamper about. My deer hunts are more about venison than antlers, so I have no qualms about taking an antlerless whitetail. But, if a deer looks small, it most likely is small and that doesn’t put much meat in the freezer.

We saw more deer as the morning progressed. I had hopes that a couple small bucks might offer me a shot, but they spooked off, probably because I did something that alerted them.

Most of the ranch is in a river bottom, with brush patches, cattail sloughs and tall grass, but there are rugged hills where we often see deer hiding away in secluded spots. The hills are barren, with not much growing there but scrubby grass and prickly pear cactus, not exactly classic whitetail deer country.

We stopped on top of a high hill to glass the countryside while we had some lunch. Lunch was forgotten when I put my binoculars on a suspicious-looking spot in a distant fence corner. “What’s in that fence corner?” I asked John. “Is it a llama?” That seemed ridiculous. The next thought was, “Is that a cow elk?” “No,” John concluded, “I think that’s a whitetail deer.”

We drove to the next hilltop, relieved to see that the deer was still there. While it was still out of shooting range, this time we could also determine there were antlers. I got out of the truck and started hoofing it in the direction of the deer, trying to stay out of view from that corner. I finally got to a little ridge on the hillside where I could get into a prone position; ignoring the prickly pear cactus I was laying on. To my surprise, two deer jumped up, a buck and a doe. I put the crosshairs on the buck and pulled the trigger. The deer went about 15 feet and collapsed. 

“Wow!” That was my main thought as I approached the deer. It might not rate in any kind of record book, but it had a good set of antlers, five on each side. Taking a closer look, a lot of the antler points were broken off, indicating the deer had a busy autumn defending his ranking in the local pecking order. Judging from the size of the deer’s body, I’d bet that he didn’t lose many fights.

After the shot, of course, is when the real work begins. I may not be a speed demon when it comes to field dressing a deer, but it still took two and a half hours from the time I shot to when we had the deer dressed out, dragged to the truck and loaded up. By that time I had worked up a pretty good appetite for that long-delayed sandwich.

Our daughter, Erin, came down from Helena the next day to help with the next phase of work, reducing a big deer carcass to packages ready for the freezer. The Thanksgiving turkey made an early exit from the freezer to make way for prime venison.

On Thanksgiving Day I gave thanks for the deer and meat in the freezer, though I fear that it’ll be Christmas before the last of the cactus spines work their way out of my legs.

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