Friday, November 9, 2007

11.08.07 Randolph County Muzzleloader Hunt

Seven Christmases ago I tore into a present that forever changed my relationship with my wife. It was an elongated box (approximately 30 inches long, 10 inches wide and 5 inches thick), lovingly covered in festive paper and shiny ribbon and it was the first piece of outdoor equipment my beloved ever bought me. Millennium Design Muzzleoader of Vermont manufactured this stainless steel barrelled, walnut stocked, .50 caliber work of art but what made it special was the fact that she had somehow picked up on the research I was doing on inline muzzleloaders and bought the exact one I had my eye on before I had a chance to purchase it.

For six seasons I've tried to take a deer with this prized rifle. I'd come close several times. Two years ago I had the hammer pulled back and crosshairs placed behind the shoulder of a Guilford County doe only to be disappointed by a metallic "click" when I squeezed the trigger revealing the fact that I'd forgotten to put a primer cap on the nipple. Last year I watched a spike buck through the scope but decided to let him grow. However, I never could seem to close the deal.
Two weeks ago some family friends gave me permission to hunt on their land. I finally got around to scouting it out and putting up a stand and four days later was sitting in that stand, scanning the surroundings and, of course, second guessing my location.
The woods were chocked full of squirrels. The gray squirrel population has got to be at an all-time high because every time I'm deer hunting it seems I'm surrounded by them (the only time I'm not surrounded by squirrels in the woods is when I am squirrel hunting!). There was one eating acorns right in front of me. Another was shuffling through fallen leaves looking for his supper. And yet another one was jumping around and scampering through the woods on my left. Directly behind me I heard squirrel number four barking at something, letting the neighborhood know something was not right. Immediately I heard the sound of footsteps through the fallen leaves and assumed it was another squirrel. I was wrong. The sound became louder, more distinct and it was quickly apparent that the incoming footsteps belonged to a deer.

A yearling stepped beside me and walked on through the woods. Next came a doe, followed by another yearling. The doe was very skittish as a light breeze was blowing across me and into the deer's path. She licked her nose and stuck it higher into the air, sniffing and trying to figure out what she was smelling. Eventually she walked on through and joined the yearlings, feeding on acorns and other mast. I guess curiosity got the best of her and she walked back toward me. I had it in mind to hold out for a buck but as it got darker and the deer continued feeding right around me I decided to opt for meat in the freezer and take a doe. As I shifted my weight and raised my muzzleloader barrel, one of the yearlings spotted the movement and blew a warning. I squeezed the trigger and boom, the world exploded with the sound of a .50 Hornady Lock-N-Load sabot being propelled out the 1 in 24" rifled barrel and deer running everywhere. Triple Seven smoke filled my vision making it impossible to see more than five yards in front of the stand. As the smoke cleared an eerie silence fell over the woods and a quick check revealed the doe was not there. I got down and checked the area, finding blood and feeling better. Then I headed back to truck to get a flashlight.

Whitney, my buddies' teenage daughter, wanted to tag along so we tracked the deer ten yards at a time periodically marking the blood trail with small strips of toilet tissue. Being somewhat discouraged by the lack of blood I began to question the shot but continued forward, energized by the enthusiasm of my tracking partner. Forty-five minutes and a hundred or so yards later we found her. Not a trophy by most standards but a great prize in my book.

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