“That’s why it is called hunting, and not killing,” a friend of mine once replied in response to my disappointment after a day in the field resulting in an empty bag.
My friends an I were throwing around many similar platitudes after our three days of this year’s firearm deer season.
I am originally from Calhoun County, in Southwest Michigan, where corn-fed deer populations continue to explode, and are among the highest in the state. Instead of hunting in Calhoun County, I hunted in Luce County, home to some of the most bitterly cold, deer-killing winters in the state.
Because of this, deer may not have been jumping into my line of fire (they didn’t really seem to be jumping at all), but I did have the chance to spend a few days in a remote block of property covered with climax forest communities in doubtlessly one of the most beautiful and rugged areas in Michigan.
Dead Man’s Farm is not accessible by road, and there is no wireless internet, electricity, indoor plumbing, or water well located on the property. Heat is from a wood-burning stove and the only way in is by aluminum fishing boat down a frigid river. Motoring in, we would hit floating chunks of ice, which would crash loudly against the hulls of the aluminum craft. Compared to hectic life in Metro Detroit, Dead Man’s, where the only stress is waking up early enough to greet the dawn in a prime hunting spot, was a welcome retreat.
All things equal, conditions were not bucolic as I may present them. The first morning of hunting was constant rain, high winds, and temperatures not reaching above 40ºF. Nothing moved. By 11:00 am, it seemed that the only creatures fool enough to roll out of bed were the most desperate of weekend-warrior hunters.
That afternoon, I went out in the rain again to scout for signs of deer. The rain continued, but the wind had slowed. I was surprised by the number of tracks and amount of sign (poop) that I found in the area. Trudging through one swamp, I finally flushed out a mottled and emaciated doe from some low-lying cedar trees. Even if Luce County issued antlerless tags (the DNR’s principal method of population control, where necessary), this deer would not have been worth taking. It scampered off into an impenetrable marsh once I got within 25 yards of it. After another hour of trudging through the wet undergrowth, I headed back to dry off before the evening hunt.
On entering the clearing where the cabin is located, I flushed out four Roughed Grouse, which flew and landed on the other side of the clearing. It did not take long for my desperation for some sort of success in the field to outweigh the detriment to the deer hunting by firing shots and taking a grouse. I walked to the cabin, replaced my 1 oz. slugs with birdshot, and then went back out. I felled a bird on my second shot. It tumbled from the sky into a thick patch of brambles, where I promptly realized why upland bird hunters prize their hunting dogs. 30 minutes and countless obscenities later, I recovered the bird, and a fine bird it was.
Plucked, this bird was slightly larger than a domesticated Cornish Game Hen, and tasted similar as well.
The next morning was a perfect day for hunting. Still and cold, you could hear everything in the forest. Animals, including deer, moved everywhere. Birds sang and squirrels chattered. Being in the woods of Northern Michigan with the clean simple challenge of the hunt only added to the cumulative exuberance of the experience. For me, the spectacular beauty of the outdoors and stark simplicity of hunting success, contrasted with the thrilling productivity of society and the multifaceted complexity of urban living has formed a unique dichotomy. The more I see of one sphere, the more I appreciate it, while simultaneously increasing my appreciation of its disjunct.
I only hope that next year, my efforts will pay dividends in venison in addition to experience.