Till Next Year
He said that he wouldn’t shoot another buck. The one he had wounded the second weekend would have to limp into view before he would fire another round.
But here we were on the last day of the prairie deer season with only five minutes of light left. There was a good whitetail buck to his left and a mule deer buck right in front of him. Fill the freezer or go home empty handed and have to wait for venison until next year?
I was three hundred yards away watching the show from a ridgeline. In another 24 hours, these same prairie views would be blanketed with snow and the threat of fifty-mile-an hour winds would have every deer in the country buried in thick cover trying to keep warm. Whatever decision my son-in-law Nate chose, would have to be made on his own.
This hunting season has more than lived up to its promise. More mature deer were harvested by friends, former students, and acquaintances than even I had envisioned. Many of those animals were personal bests for hunters who have spent decades in the field. Others were much more than personal bests; they could rewrite South Dakota’s record books.
Just one example came in from the Belle Fourche area. Mule deer have only six entries using the Boone and Crockett scoring system that come in over two hundred inches. The four largest were all harvested in the 40’s and 50’s. Deer breaking that mark have been taken each of the last two seasons in the area around Belle Fourche. Perhaps the disease induced decline of the whitetail population has served to lift the health and well being of mule deer.
Trophy dimensions are only one aspect on a broad spectrum of indicators that biologists and hunters use to determine the prospects of various species. Perhaps more important in a broader sense are the conditions of habitat and the tolerances of land owners. When both are in proper adjustment, deer have a chance to reach their genetic potential and South Dakota can shine as bright as our more popular western neighbors.
Nate had held out on several good bucks the opening weekend of Prairie deer season. He had watched without a license the year previous and knew that older and larger bucks were available for hunters that were patient. He wanted his first mule deer to be a mature representative of its species and turned down several strong three-year-olds that gave him opportunities. The buck that escaped was more than two feet wide and just as tall but the shot flew errant and the buck jumped the fence onto posted property. Nate vowed not to harvest any other animal accept that wounded buck.
He had diligently waited for its return, watching each time for a deer with a limp, but here during the last moments of the season there were two options that would test his determination. The whitetail’s rack was tall. One long tine had been broken off in battle but it stood its ground in the fading light and attempted to identify the crawling figure that was only a hundred yards away. It was a chip shot with the bipod and scope Nate carried on his rifle.
Two hundred yards out was the mule deer buck. It was aggressively pursuing a doe and it rarely held still for more than a moment. The setting sun was at its back and Nate couldn’t tell as well as I that it was a tall but thin-racked two-year-old.
Several times I watched as he aligned his sites from behind the rifle. Each time I waited for the sound of a shot. The light gradually dimmed, the whitetail trotted off, the mating mule deer meandered down the alfalfa field, and I gained new respect for Nate.
Another season’s growth for hunter and game make each stronger.
Till next year.