Success, it is sometimes said, is where opportunity meets preparation. That certainly applies to deer hunting. Opportunities are few and far between so when they present themselves you want to be prepared. That includes recognizing them, and making the right moves to capitalize on them.

Bow season had been slow. With a week to go before firearms season it was time for a little scouting. I dumped a hand full of bird loads in my vest and took my .20-gauge for a walk around the local woodlot. Midway through the trek, I came upon a fresh rub on a thigh-sized fir, definitely worth closer inspection. Judging by the size of the tree and the amount of excavation it had received, I concluded the area was visited regularly, and by a decent sized buck. I surveyed my surroundings and the seeds of a plan were planted.

Opening day finally arrived but the wind was wrong to hunt the rub, so I got into position as close as I could on the downwind side. Well before daylight I heard heavy footsteps on the frozen leaves. Whatever it was sounded too heavy and steady for a deer until it paused, took three bounds across the swale grass then continued on in the darkness. Though no deer presented themselves after sunup, I took that encounter as a positive sign. My hunch at least seemed correct.

Monday morning the wind was right. I slipped in to the rub, as near as I could find my way in the dark, and settled in; and didn’t have to wait long for the action. The sun had yet to crest the treetops when I caught movement in the dense underbrush. Had I not been looking there at that moment, I might easily have missed it as the wet leaves and moss precluded any sound. It could have been merely a blue jay flitting through the firs, or a puff of ground fog, but I readied myself just the same.

The next movement was clearly that of a deer, sex and size still unknown. I shifted my gaze to the next and final opening and prepared for a potential shot. The buck came through at a steady walk offering a split second to decide, flick off the safety and find him in my scope. Three more steps and he’d be gone. I dared to make a loud blat, stopping him in his tracks, centered on his vitals and fired. The buck bounded away with a whitetail salute – not a good sign. “Oh well, at least I got that miss out of the way early,” I comforted myself. “Still, you never know.”

Expecting little, I composed myself, gathered up my gear and made my way over to where I thought the deer was standing at the shot. I quickly found a disturbance in the duff where he had bounded, giving me a general direction of travel. More disturbance confirmed I was on the right track.

In the dim light under the dense softwood, the forest floor was littered with maple leaves and frost-bitten moss in various hues of red, making it difficult to pick out any possible sign of a hit. Nonetheless, one spot of moss caught my attention so I reached down and touched it with my fingertips, and was rewarded with a moist, red smudge. Apparently I’d hit something, but judging by the deer’s reaction, surmised I’d probably just grazed it.

Still, I continued on, and a short distance ahead noticed something white in a puddle. Upon closer inspection, it looked a lot like lung tissue. Suddenly things seemed a lot more optimistic, a feeling reinforced by more and more obvious spatters of blood. Then, up ahead more white, and brown. The deer was down!

At first I thought he must have fallen against a downed tree or a root mass but no, those were antlers, and fairly impressive ones at that. The dark brown, heavy-beamed rack sported 11 points and the bases were gnarled with perlations. Stepping back I marveled at the deer’s deep chest and thick neck.

In the days that followed I reflected on how the pieces of that hunt all came together. Had I not found the rub, recognized it for what it was and known how to approach it, I might never have been in the right place at the right time. Hunting that spot when the wind was wrong would only have educated the deer and probably ended my chances. Then came making the right split-second decisions, and the responsible action of following up. That success came from being prepared when the opportunity presented itself.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at: [email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.